Calling all Feminist Educators:

Since retiring and becoming a twitter tragic over the last 2 years in my retirement what has struck me most is the extensive amount of debate and focus on feminist issues: gender justice; gender injustice; the importance of and the irrelevance of feminism in social media.

But there is one place where feminism debate and discussion seems to be alarmingly thin on the ground, especially in Australia – school education! From the perspective of an outsiders like myself it appears to be a feminist free zone.

Current debates on social medial  cover ranges the following: Continue reading

What might Hannah Arendt say about the budget?

I am sure many teachers have been to see the film about Hannah Arendt.  I hope you found it inspiring and insightful.

I am also sure many of you will be feeling as  do – furious, helpless, defeated, tired and depressed by the budget revelations that Gonski funding principals cut no ice with this Government.  It doesn’t matter that we suspected that this was the case all along.  With the odds so stacked against public schooling in this country, we do tend to cling to false hope when there is little else.

So I am sharing a quote from Hannah Arendt sent to me by Lyndsay Connors  which sets out just why we continue to fight for quality education for all

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love our children enough … not to strike from their hands the chance of undertaking something new”. It is only through gifting our children this freedom that we will prepare them adequately for “the task of renewing a common world”.

On a brighter note – I am very curious to know what David Gonski will share with the punters tomorrow when he delivers the Jean Blackburn Memorial Oration for the Australian College of Educators at The University of Melbourne.

Will he reveal what he really thought about the impossible constraints put upon the review team to deliver a fair proposal where no school would lose a cent?

Will he share with us his personal reaction to experiencing top elite schools and struggling low SES schools?

Will he document the extent to which the original modelling in the report was watered down in an attempt to appease the Catholic Sector

Will he critique the decisions of Julia Gillard who, even though she wanted this to be her defining achievement, delayed implementation to try and use it as a vote catcher

And what on earth is he likely to say about Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott?

Please Mr Gonski – deliver a frank and fearless exposure

Stay tuned.

 

 

If you think that queer/GLTBI politics and issues have nothing to do with teachers, schools and children – think again

In the most recent editorial of a progressive educational Journal called Rethinking Schools the authors relate the story of Sasha Fleischman.

On Nov. 5, Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. And Sasha Fleischman’s skirt was set on fire on an Oakland, California, bus by a 16-year-old student from another school (Sasha is an a gender youth*). What a contradiction. And what a clear example of the complex state of LGBTQ issues at this moment in history. What does this contradiction mean for students, teachers, and schools?

The schools response to this tragedy was very important. Students and teachers immediately mobilised support for Sasha; money to cover medical expenses; an organized “Stroll for Sasha” along the bus route; and new t shirts for the basketball team marked with ‘No h8’ on the front and Sasha’s name on the back.

The authors make the point that “homophobia, misogyny, and other forms of hatred are alive and well, and even progressive schools and classrooms have a long way to go in creating nurturing spaces for students, parents, and staff who don’t conform to gender and/or sexuality “norms.””

They point out that it doesn’t matter how strong our ‘generic anti bullying programs and policies are, because the anti-bullying framework positions bullying as an individualised behaviour problem and does not address the systemic issues.

To lump disparate behaviors under the generic “bullying” is to efface real differences that affect young people’s lives. Bullying is a broad term that de-genders, de-races, de-everythings school safety.

The reasons for teachers’ reluctance to name issues related to diverse sexualities, homophobi, transgender are readily understandable. Parent, community backlash, moving into unknown territory with students are not imaginary barriers.

So how do we move forward?

For those who wish to think and act more deliberately to address these issues this article is an excellent place to start. And although the examples provided in this article of current event stories worth using are all US based, I am sure it is possible to find Australian and other examples.

* The term refers to having no gender: meaning an individual does not identify as either male or female

More Autonomy for NT on schools funding will be the death knell for ‘closing the gap’

I know this is a waste of my breath, but I am begging Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott to visit remote schools in the NT and schools in Darwin with a checklist in hand.  The checklist should include:

  • state of the buildings,
  • state of the grounds,
  • state of the playground,
  • sports facilities
  • water bubblers, pathways, covered ways. shaded areas and ablution areas
  • eating areas
  • existence of specialist areas such as science laboratories, ICT rooms, libraries, teacher staff rooms,
  • experience of principal
  • average teaching experience of staff
  • no of specialist support staff
  • turnover and average experience of teachers
  • average number of children on the roll for each class

Then compare the relative needs of the schools in question – numbers of children who do not yet speak or understand English, NAPLAN scores, student attendance figures special needs and so on.

Then and only then try and tell us that the best way to spend Gonski funding is to give a blank cheque to the NT Government.

The simple fact that every teacher in a Darwin school knows is that the Darwin schools are much more generously funded than the highly disadvantaged remote schools.  They also know that the NT Government, no matter what its political persuasion, will never be able to change this because they would immediately lose office.

To cover for this the Department of education has been pretending to work on a new needs based staffing formula and has been pretending this  since at least 2008.  It is a farce. I have written about this previously here.

And The Chief Minister has admitted that the reason they did not sign on to the ALP Gonski offer is because it would have forced them to shift funds out of Darwin and into remote because the Gonski framework required implementing the needs based approach.

Now it looks like Minister Pyne will give NT the funds with no restrictions.  And at the same time NT are cutting positions right across remote NT.  Indigenous peoples are being ripped off in the name of Gonski and this just makes me want to weep.

For white teachers teaching white kids: in the shadow of the Zimmerman case

When my oldest child was about 3 we had an African family over for lunch who had a child about the same age.  Now we were a white family and this was a family with black skin.  I naively assumed this was an irrelevance.

Imagine my embarrassment when my usually friendly child flatly refused to let our visiting child into the sandpit.  I thought I would die of shame and embarrassment.  Somehow I had managed to bring up a racist in my midst.

Oh how naïve I was about race, about difference.  It was, of course, a naivety no non-white parent would ever have had.

I read a really useful blog recently by Jennifer Harvey which brought all this back to me.

Dear Parents of White Children, it began:

“I vote that we strike the following from our parental lexicon:

1. “Everybody is equal.”

2. “We’re all the same underneath our skin.”

I realize this is counterintuitive. But I’m completely serious.

These statements, she argues, are “stand-ins for the actual conversations about race, racial difference and racism we need to be having with our kids” – and of course with our students

Harvey, a professor of religion, gets her students to write racial autobiography papers. They are asked to describe the impact of racial identity in their life, including any significant experiences, teachings and thoughts pertaining to that identity at various life stages. They also have to interview 2 family members about their experiences.

Now anyone who has tried anything like this (and I do encourage you to give it an age appropriate go)  will know what comes next – white kids find this almost impossible

Time and again, my white students write that “everybody’s equal” is the “most important” thing their parents taught them about race. Time and again, a not-insignificant number of them then proceed to describe their present trepidation about a.) telling their parents they date interracially; b.) bringing home a Latino/a or black classmate; c.) Thanksgiving break, when everyone will silently tolerate the family member who makes racist comments; or d.) something else that reveals how deeply and clearly these students know this “most important teaching” doesn’t mean a hell of a lot to their actual white experience.

She goes on to say that

I know “everybody’s equal” means “we all deserve to be treated with fairness.” And when we tell kids we’re all the same underneath skin, gender, sexuality, physical abilities and other differences we’re trying to tell them we share human dignity and worth.

Obviously, I believe these things.

But, have you ever actually met a “generic” human? Someone without a race or a gender?

Well, guess what? Neither has your child.

And by the age of 3, our kids are aware of this fact, even though they don’t yet use adult categories to talk about it.

As teachers and parents, rising to the challenge to do better is not going to be easy – its not an easy matter.

If white children grow up in a world where simplistic platitudes pass for conversations about this deeply important and complex matter, is it any wonder white students are so racially baffled and behind and so ill equipped to join their non-white peers as allies in building more racially just futures.

As teachers and parents, rising to the challenge to do better is not going to be easy – its not an easy matter.

But as Harvey notes:

If we want our white children to live in a world with more racial justice than the one we live in now, we need to figure out how to have conversations with them as real, thick, painful, resilient, strategic and authentic as the conversations … parents [in non white families] had to have. So that our kids can help build that world.

 

Note: I realize that if you are reading this and you have not been deprived of tough conversations about race from an early age, chances are you did not grow up in an all white family.  This will all sound far too obvious to you – insultingly so.  But you need to give the rest of us a chance to catch up.

School Autonomy and the ‘unwanted student enrolment’

A moving article by Travis Smiley PBS talk show host about the film “Education Under Arrest” depicts what happens to poor and minority students under ‘zero tolerance’ regimes being implemented as part of corporate education reforms in many US states.

It made me think about a problem I have predicting will become more relevant to Australia as we foolishly rush to embrace the ‘independent public schools’ model of WA.  The problem, put simply is this:

If schools are going to be made to compete more and more in the schooling market place this will enhance the ‘choice power’ of all students from desirable well educated ‘stable’ middle class families and reduce the ‘choice power’ of families in less stable, middle class circumstances.  Autonomous schools who want to increase their attractiveness in the market place and are in a position to do so will do what is in their power to attract desirable enrolments and keep at bay those considered less desirable.   One possible ‘ solution’ will be embracing notions such as ‘zero tolerance’.  How will this impact on ‘ ‘unwanted students’?

The film is based on interviews with kids who are victims of this policy.  Smiley’s account of the stories are sad and disturbing.

“We had to shut the cameras down for a moment. The testimony of the two New Orleans sisters, Kenyatta, 15, and Kennisha, 17, was too surreal, too emotional and too raw.

Kenyatta was involved in a fight at school that she didn’t start. Because of “zero tolerance” policies adopted at their high school and many others in America, Kenyatta was handcuffed, arrested and expelled. Kennisha, who tried to break up the fight, was also expelled….

One of every three teens arrested is arrested in school. It’s a punitive system based, in large part, on “zero tolerance” policies adopted in the late 1990s after the shocking school shootings in Columbine; a system that’s built a highway into prison, but barely a sidewalk out.

We took our cameras to Washington State, Louisiana, California and Missouri to meet and speak with those involved with educational and juvenile justice reform. Through their expertise and experiences we get a definitive look at how arresting children in school, sending them to court and then locking them away in jail impacts America’s dropout rate.

We shut the cameras down briefly after Kenyatta, with voice cracking and tears flowing, described her ordeal with a school district’s unyielding policy and her encounter with the juvenile justice system:

“It was completely unfair. I felt all of this was so wrong. ..”

EYES WIDE OPEN: What to make of Gonski Lite?

 

I have now read over 150 articles on the Commonwealth’s new funding model – most of them little more than repeats of press releases or snide remarks about its destined failure.

There are a few that stand–out, but unfortunately only a tiny minority have bothered to go beyond the media briefings, to analyse the figures and investigate the issues to any extent.  This is particularly shocking given how important this proposed new policy is for all Australians.

So what to make of what is on the table? Here is my take on the good, the bad and my on balance assessment.  But firstly I would like to be clear that I approach this issue from a social justice value base.  And, unlike many, I acknowledge that this does not make me an impartial observer – just a well informed, committed and passionate one.

I will deal with the bad first

The funding falls far short of the Gonski Recommendations

The oft-quoted Gonski figure of $5 billion per year in 2009 terms has gone forever.  Others have assessed that over 6 years this would have increased to about $39 billion in real terms. What is on the table is less $14.5 Billion over six years, or less than 50 per cent of what was assessed as necessary to achieve a quality needs based education funding regime.

The $14.5 billion includes $2.34 billion ($390 million per annum) that is already out in schools through the National Partnership Programs.  Yes this program was lapsing in 2014, but as far as schools are concerned, it is out there funding extra teaching resources.  It just means they won’t experience the taking-away of these much-needed resources.

The targeting approach recommended by Gonski has been diluted in significant ways to the detriment of our most needy schools

Gonski’s key message was that if Australia is ever to lift its educational outcomes it has to do it through targeting those most disadvantaged.

The current funding offer provides the vast bulk (83 per cent) of the funds in the form of base funds based on the Student Resource Standard.  The remaining 15 per cent of the funds are for needs based loadings.

The loadings or targeting measures are a key element of the Gonski reforms because as Colebatch notes “our funding system gives too little to the students who need it most, and the growth in funding should be used to redirect money to the most disadvantaged 25 per cent”

However while there are still targeted measures or loadings in the Government plan they are not well targeted and this difference is crucial.

Where Gonski proposed targeting the bottom 25 per cent of Socio-economic status the Government’s offer targets the bottom 50 per cent.  This makes a very big difference for schools at the low end of the ICSEA scale, because the money is spread as thin as vegemite over the vast majority of schools.  I had a brief search on MySchool and, although that is hard to do, it confirmed my sense that almost all schools can find a student or 2 in the bottom 50 per cent.

Where Gonski advocated for needs based loading for Indigenous students it would only apply the loading when the proportion of Indigenous students reached 5 per cent.  This would have included over 95 per cent of NT schools but only a minority of other schools.  There is no doubt that the decision to apply this loading for every Indigenous student has cost the NT dearly.

It is clear that the non-Government sector influenced this part of the deal making, as this dilution represents a clear win for them at the expense of the needs of the most disadvantaged schools.  The greatest need by far is in the public system and few schools serving the poorest communities in Australia are non-government.  Richard Teese notes that

About 80 per cent of all disadvantaged children attend government schools. Yet despite this, state and federal governments are set to give all non-government schools real increases in funds over the next three, and possibly six years. This includes the 1000 schools currently overfunded – schools that are “funding maintained”.

This more than anything cements our divided and highly unequal system into the future – a savage irony as also noted by Teese

We risk emerging from the most thorough review of national school funding with an architecture of advantage and disadvantage that is even stronger than when we began.

This is also a fantastic political win for the Independent education sector because it opens the door to a voucher type approach where wily non-Government schools can cherry pick the highest performing students who meet any of the loadings criteria but who do not require the extra ‘heavy lifting’ required by state schools who must take all comers.

By putting a price on the child’s head we are assuming that all children all Indigenous children are alike and all children in the bottom 50% are alike.  The NAPLAN results for NT Indigenous compared to the NAPLAN results for non-NT Indigenous are very very different – suggesting this is not the case.  The schools and associated families of the children with the highest needs have indeed been sold out.  And of course the NT has been sold out too.

On the other hand, Bill Daniel’s (Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia) implicit endorsement of the proposal suggests that they are indeed highly satisfied[1].

It brings with it all the inherent risks associated with federal overreach

Bernard Keane[2] makes the point that the real benefit of these funding reforms may not lie in the additional funding.  The funding he claims is just a means to an end –  “… the real benefits may well lie not in the extra dollars but in the changes to performance information and allocation of decision-making within large systems.” He goes on the say that “ In effect, for that extra $9.4 billion, Gillard wants the state to sign up to more rigorous entry and assessment standards for teachers, more power for school principals and greater performance information for parents”.

Keane might view these as benefits but I take a different view.  All states already have in place comprehensive and well-researched school improvement processes and were already sharing ideas based on what they had learnt from their programs.

And there is no strong evidence that giving more staffing hire and fire power and budget autonomy to principals enhances education equity but there is strong evidence that competition between schools over their ‘market share’ of ‘desirable student enrolments’ increases inter school differences and further disadvantages schools that have the hardest job.

 It does not address the schools that are currently overfunded under the current SES model

This is disappointing especially as I can recall there were articles that made it clear that even the coalition MPs acknowledged that the grandfathering of the overpayments needed to have a use by date.

It does not play fair between the states

This has been the focus of the WA Premier and he does have a point.  The logic outlined by Garrett is that they have drawn a Student Resource Standard line and applied a simple state blind gap filling model to the funding allocations.  That is, their allocations are based on what it costs to bring all schools up to this standard.

WA currently funds schools at a higher pre student rate than either Victoria and NSW so their funding gap is less.  This sounds fine from a distance, but it is worth remembering that Victoria, NSW and Qld have all taken funding away from schools and now appear to get a windfall gain from this cynical action.

It is also worth comparing this funding carve-up to other similar state negotiations over education funding.  For example, when the Early Childhood Education National Partnership funding shares between states were being negotiated Qld and NT has a much lower proportion of 4 year olds in preschools and argued that they aught to receive a larger share.  This ‘state blind gap resourcing’ approach was not followed on that occasion although there were some minor adjustments in recognition of this gap.

I think the key thing to take from this is that all states do not have equal bargaining power just like the unequal lobbying power between the education sectors.

It does not address the fact that Australia has one of the most class segregated and unequal schooling models in the world

I nearly didn’t include this negative because, even if ‘Gonski original’ had been proposed, this problem would have remained.  This was because the terms of reference for Gonski placed this out of bounds

It has been our obstinate commitment to the god of parent choice that has led to this outcome

So after all this – what are the positives?

The proposal offers new money to the public education system

The Government school share of the funding is $12.1 Billion.  Some $2 billion is already out in schools (under National Partnership Programs) but around $10 Billion is clearly additional to current expenditure.

This is important and we shouldn’t waste this opportunity because it is not on ideal terms.  It was never ever going to be. Moreover, opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne says an Abbott government would keep the old system, implying that it will offer nothing new for public schools.

If we don’t embrace this offer during this Government’s term we may end up with something far far worse.  Tony Abbott has already gone on record saying that equity should mean all schools get the same level of Government funding.  This would be an absolute outrage.

It tosses out, once and for all, the AGSRC – and this is critical

The AGSRC or Average Government Student Resource Cost was the basis of the old funding model.  It was just that – it was a costing figure derived from calculating the average cost of educating a child at a Government school.  This has been a sore point for decades because the average cost for Government school students is based on a student population that is very different from the non-Government school population and is getting more and more different over time.  The effect of using AGSRC to determine funding formula meant that non-Government schools were financially rewarded when public school residualisation caused the costs of educating the increasingly poorer and needy students at Government schools to rise.

This new offer ushers in a Student Resource Standard based on calculations that are much more defensible.

The need for a better deal for public schools is urgent – It cannot wait

As David Zyngier notes[3] currently only 71 per cent of Australian government spending goes to public schools. Only Belgium and Chile spent a lower proportion of government funding in the public sector.

The debate we have around school funding and school choice in Australia is absolutely unique.  We take as normal and natural that Governments fork out a large amount of dollars to pay for the education of parents who chose not to use the Government provided systems.  In the vast bulk of countries this choice would not be subsidized.

We are paying the price for this choice in our international test results.  I must say I don’t particularly care about that, but I do care that we are paying the price in terms of large numbers of children who fail to reach their potential because our schooling arrangements have disadvantaged them.  We need to acknowledge this and put this right.  This is a start.


[1] “The success of this funding model depends heavily on the response from state and territory governments,” responded Independent Schools Council of Australia executive Bill Daniels.

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1756442/How-leaders-reacted-to-school-funding-plan

And another US Ed Reform Fight-back Group is also announced

Meanwhile also in the US another ed reform fight-back campaign is launched

On 7 march 2013 Diane Ravitch launched a new network devoted to the defense and improvement of public education in the US called the Network for Public Education.

Its goal is to bring together grassroots activists and organizations from around the country, and endorse candidates for office, with the common goal of protecting and strengthening our public schools.

Diane Ravitch said

The Network for Public Education will give voice to the millions of parents, educators, and other citizens who are fed up with corporate-style reform. We believe in community-based reform, strengthening our schools instead of closing them, respecting our teachers and principals instead of berating them, educating our children instead of constantly testing them. Our public schools are an essential democratic institution. We look forward to working with friends and allies in every state and school district who want to preserve and improve public education for future generations.”

Our nation’s schools are at a crossroads. Wealthy individuals are pouring unprecedented amounts of money into state and local school board races, often into places where they do not reside, to elect candidates intent on undermining and privatizing our public schools. The Network for Public Education will collaborate with other groups and organizations to strengthen our public schools in states and districts throughout the nation, share information and research about what works and what doesn’t work, and endorse and grade candidates based on our shared commitment to the well-being of our children, our society, and our public schools. We will help candidates who work for evidence-based reforms and who oppose high-stakes testing, mass school closures, the privatization of our public schools and the outsourcing of core academic functions to for-profit corporations.

Lets hope these two new networks can collaborate and build on each others’ strengths.

To find out more visit http://dianeravitch.net/2013/03/07/breaking-news-new-group-to-oppose-corporate-reforms/

Ken Boston: Our poor international test results are entirely self inflicted

Thank you Ken Boston for speaking out  ( Schools results tell the story too well: the funding model has failed | The Australian ).  After 12 months of negotiations, pleas, campaigns and costings we are now looking at the genuine possibility of the derailment of the once in a lifetime opportunity to fix the school funding train-wreck.        

As most will know Ken Boston was one of the members of the Gonski Review panel on school funding.  He would have sat through hours and hours of deputations, briefings, research reports, political discussions, internal and external meetings, and costings, costings and more costings.

If there is an argument for retaining the key features of the current funding model (AGSRG, SES ratings, UNLIMITED overfunding exemptions for the richest schools) you can be assured that Boston would have heard it many times over, and most eloquently and persuasively from our most powerful Non Government school peak bodies.  And don’t ever forget that there is no equivalent to this lobbying power on the Government school side.  

For example, Bill Daniels, the Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia, is threatening to derail Gonski negotiations if any of our most wealthy schools stand to lose any funds at all – not next year, but in the out-years – and in real terms.  This is despite the fact that even the key members of the opposition Government have acknowledged that the grandfathering of the over-formula funding allocations, for the wealthiest schools, should not be continued indefinitely.  

This is in stark contrast to the behaviour of the equivalent ‘owners’ of our Government schools, the state Governments.  Both Ted Bailleau and Campbell Newman have stated that they support increased funding to the independent sector and Barry O’Farrell has slashed funding for Government schools.   

 Boston knows what he is talking about and here are some of the most telling extracts:

[T]he decline in the performance of our schools in reading, mathematics and science across the past decade or more, as reported by independent international authorities … [is a problem that is) ….  entirely self-inflicted.

The present approach, … increases the funds available to the independent sector and the Catholic sector, as well as to government schools, in proportion to rises in the costs to the states of government schools. … [but the costs in Government schools are high because they unequally] … serve low socioeconomic communities with many newly arrived migrant children from more than 80 language backgrounds.  

Boston argues that this funding model (known as the AGSRC) assumes that competition between schools will drive up standards but in reality it just gives schools that do not serve less low SES students a windfall gain.

Independent international studies of Australian school performance show that we are in trouble and have been so for at least two generations of schooling. Our business model for school funding – based on the funding of sectors rather than the funding of schools according to the job to be done – has comprehensively failed in the long term.

Boston gives two reasons why this business model has failed:

1.     It has led to Australia having one of the most socially segregated education systems in the OECD

 

Across the world, there is a positive correlation between socioeconomic advantage and educational performance: in Australia, socioeconomic disadvantage has a greater adverse effect on educational achievement than in any other comparable OECD country.  Our social gradient – the graph line that links the scores of a country’s highest performing schools at the upper end of the socioeconomic scale to the scores of its lowest performing schools at the lower end of the scale – is much steeper than the average for all 34 countries in the OECD. The steep social gradient and the continuing decline in our national educational performance are related, and both are the product of our flawed funding model.

 

2.            There is no real competition between sectors.

The sector-based business model has failed to create an even playing field on which government, Catholic and independent schools can compete to drive up school performance. The present funding model endorses the view that high-quality education is a positional good conferring advantage on those who can afford it, rather than a public good to which all are entitled. At the same time, it has brought about a change in the role of many schools in the building of social capital: no longer do most schools aim – in Robert Putnam’s terms – to bridge the differences between children in terms of social background, religion and ethnicity, but to bond together children of similar socioeconomic, cultural or religious backgrounds from the early years of schooling. The present funding arrangements have sucked the oxygen from any potential for real competition between government and non-government schools.

So there you have it.  We have created a stupid system where competition is anything but equal and the end result is schooling apartheid that has impacted on our educational performance in profound ways.  Fix equity and we raise quality.

Boston concludes:

As a nation we are in an appalling situation. We will remain so until the failed funding model is replaced by one that reduces our social gradient and raises school performance overall. … It is time for all of us, including those like me who advised governments of both persuasions on these matters, to abandon the present model and move on.

It is time for all of us; no matter where our kids are educated, or which sector we represent, to think of the bigger picture and of Australia’s national interest.  And in doing we should ask ourselves if a school that receives over $20,000 per student in school fees alone can really justify NEEDING additional funds when the average cost for a Government school is around 

Paul Sheehan’s light bulb moment on schooling

Everyone has the answers to our unequal schooling outcomes.  Politicians have had a field day and so have journalists.  The latest is from Paul Sheehan Learn from Asian culture of success | smh.com.au.

His article notes that the school HSC winners are girls (68%) and Asian students while the losers are Indigenous students.  He takes over half the article to make this seemingly surprising observation.

And then of course there is the jump to solution  – which is… ?  Well, more importantly, which is NOT more money because apparently “Australian governments have been pouring billions into indigenous communities for years with few measurable improvements and billions more dollars on education with little change in the basic template”.

If Sheehan, who sees himself as an investigative journalist, had done his homework he would have known that this is not the case.  Over the Howard years the funding profile of Australia changed dramatically till by the  end of 2010 Australia was in the world’s top group  in terms of expenditure on non-Government schools but in the bottom group in terms of expenditure on Government schools.

We have been throwing money on high fee paying elite schools – some of which are Catholic and others of which are independent.  These schools were meant to have made use of this additional funding  to enable them to reduce fees, but this was not done – fees went up.  The high fee paying Catholic schools were alleged to have used these funds to redistribute to their more needy schools in poorer areas, but it has become clear that this was not done.  Instead what the high fee schools have managed to do is to to have teacher student ratios that are the envy of the world – and way above ratios available to high need schools where remedial support is imperative.

So Mr Sheehan we might have been pouring billions into schools, but given that very few Indigenous children actually attended these high fee schools, it is not surprising that it has not made a difference.

In fact Mr Sheehan you might like to investigate how the NT Government funds it schools.  Afterall they have the highest proportion of Australia’s most disadvantaged and under performing students.  If you do follow this up – and I do hope you do – I will be interested to hear what you find.  And I can almost guarantee you will not say – billions of dollars are being invested in this area.  I would be only too happy to give you a few leads too, to start you on your investigative journey.

But lets look further at your argument because you go on to say it is a waste of money to invest in poor schools because the problem is not resources.  Apparently they are swimming in billions.  The problem according to you is culture – specifically the culture of the parents of poor, Indigenous and otherwise low performing students.

So based on this logic you argue that non Government schools are successful because they can pick and choose their parents – they can make sure that they are not lumbered with the children of the poor.

I think you are implying that parents of middle class and rich students are responsible.  They read to their children every day, make them do their homework go to bed early and get up to eat a good breakfast and go to school every day.  They teach them about delayed gratification, cleanliness, manners and all the rest.

Parents of poor students are undisciplined, unmotivated, irresponsible and dysfunctional parents (your words) .  They don’t read to their children, teach them delayed gratification or manners and they let them wag school.

Now this is a dangerous – a racist and classist  – picture of things.  It denies that there is child neglect, crime, fraud, drunkenness, assault, murder  etc in the best of homes. And I think when you look at the social behaviours, attitudes and values of many of our elite private school ‘stars’ you will find that arrogance, prejudices, entitlement, untruthfulness, callousness, aggression are not uncommon.

We can see human weakness in all its variations in communities of poverty too.  But we also see many people who have to struggle to make ends meet, who have to make difficult survival choices, may not be literate, who are both time poor and economically poor and who lack security of abode, income, food, health and transport.  They have a lot going on.

Our problem is that our unique, extreme school choice policy framework has created a situation where children from these two groups are becoming more and more segregated – you are correct to note this.

But what of your solution?  Well here it is:

“Until state schools have the power to set and enforce codes of conduct, discipline and application comparable to the powers taken for granted in private schools, we will continue to have one system for the bright, ambitious and/or wealthy and one for the rest.”

I have to ask, what on earth does this mean?  How do you propose that schools ‘enforce codes of conduct, discipline and application’ beyond what they are already doing. Surely you understand that all schools (except for a few remaining non Government alternative schools perhaps) use every tool within their power to foster a student body that respects others,  complies with all reasonable rules and engages seriously with learning.  They already use all the discipline powers available to them to discipline, punish, suspend and even expel students.

In fact there is growing concern that the more extensive powers that have recently been transferred to principals to suspend students for quite a long time is being used unequally on poor and Indigenous students and many exacerbate the school-to-prison pipeline already observable for many marginalized groups.

If you have secret tools that you could reveal that would achieve this goal it would be great to hear about them.

Or are you really suggesting that students who don’t come up to scratch should get selected out of Government schools?  What happens then?  This would be the end of universal schooling and a return to a Dickensian underclass of poverty and criminality.

Or are you saying that Government schools should charge fees like the non-Government system.  Of course you’re not.  But this is the point Mr Sheehan.  Non-Government schools charge fees and can say ‘no’.  These two mechanisms serve to keep ‘undesirable enrolments’ out.  According to Chris Bonnor, it is possible to calculate just how little or how much a school has to charge to filter out which groups of families by interogating the MySchool data.

So Mr Sheehan, I might not agree with your deficit model of poor parents and poor students, and I might not think there is a solution which involves making public schools more like non-Government schools. However I do agree that it is fundamentally unfair to set in place a so called market model of education based on choice and competition where only some have choice and where competition is on highly unequal terms because one system has to take all comers and can’t charge fees.

Its a ‘shit sandwich’ Mr Sheehan, no doubt about it, and you know what?  Those who struggle to make a difference, who are trying to both support and teach students who are facing unimaginable hardships don’t need those with the power of the pen saying they don’t need more money to labour under the unequal task they have been set.