Monday, February 01, 2010

Human rights in Australia - social darwinism raises its ugly head in 'my schools' website fiasco

Back in August 2009 I wrote the following to the Labor party on the apparent obsession of the Deputy PM with an American model of school performance management. Following is part of what I wrote:

"The American school system is inferior in every way to our own, and that includes the NY paradigm. If you want to adapt lessons from successful countries look at the Finnish system. It is clear that the way to get improvements is through initiatives that genuinely support professional development, decent remuneration and other incentives, smaller class sizes and strategic mentoring of classroom teachers by the brightest and best of the teaching profession. Forget the corporate ‘Darwinism’ of the Americans. Facilitating comparative school performance information for public consumption is one of the most egregious scenarios I can contemplate. Don't do it!"

Now, we have the 'my schools' website launched with glee by Julia Gillard. It is an unmitigated disgrace that will deepen social divisions in our society. The stigmatization of poor performing schools, the trumpet blowing by 'selective' schools, the idiotic lumping together of schools that have very little in common apart from some econometric number that exists in a parallel reality to real life. The unexpected negative consequences of this type of ham-fisted statistical measurement are too many to log here.

An article in today's SMH online 'National Times' is well worth a read. Here is part of what Jane Caro and Chris Bonnor have to say:

"So, if, as Gillard advises, there are any lazy teachers needing a kick up the proverbial, don't look for them in a government school. Clearly if the website is correct and government schools are, on average, outperforming many of their fee-charging equivalents, then government school teachers must be working very hard indeed, against the odds. They not only teach more students, they are given vastly less support to do so.

The urgent question is: how long can they maintain this performance in the face of such skewed staffing handicaps?

Some may point out that it may be private resources that are going into paying for this extra staffing in non-government schools, but that still raises the question of why we continue to generously publicly subsidize such well-endowed schools when so many government schools are doing it tough. Private funding drives divides between schools the world over but, as the My School website so tellingly points out, should it be the role of government to continue adding fuel through its funding policies?"

It will come as no surprise that the great majority of schools in Finland - one of the best performing countries in terms of education outcomes - are public funded. The public-private divide in Australia is harmful in terms of achieving social cohesion, particularly as so many private schools underpin an ethos of selective entitlement and economic elitism. The consequences of this type of education can be seen in the divisive and inequitable policies oft peddled by the graduates of such institutions.

For me, it beggars belief that the ALP has facilitated this social 'darwinist' clap-trap and it reflects poorly on its architects.

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