The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Free-market widens gap between rich and poor schools

A study by Melbourne University’s Associate Professor of Education Stephen Lamb has found that the three significant changes in education in the last 25 years — competition (giving schools more autonomy to be more competitive), privatisation (more public money to private schools), and rationalisation (school closures and mergers) — ultimately widened the gap between rich and poor schools.

That’s what I love about economics and academia – they can give evidential substance to the bleeding obvious. The free-market cannot deliver essential services such as education, public transport, health and childcare as efficiently, effectively or equitably as the public sector. The free-market cannot and will not work in services where there is no profit to be made. Why would it or should it? It has to be at least 10% more efficient, just to provide return to shareholders, let alone improve on public provision, or provide coherent and cohesive development. The market goes where the dollar goes. Bleeding obvious.

“Market reforms over the past 25 years have led to the gradual erosion of the size and efficiency of schools serving poorer communities,” writes Melbourne University’s associate professor of education, Stephen Lamb.

“Schools in such areas have indeed become ‘sink’ schools drained of students in absolute terms, including high-achieving students, and also of resources.”

[Schools] in low socio-economic areas lost students, including their best and brightest and, as a result of falling enrolments, received less government funding than bigger schools. Unless governments acted to rectify the inequality, many poorer schools could soon become defunct, Professor Lamb warned.

“Schools in low socio-economic areas are now shadows of their former selves,” he said. “Smaller schools are viewed as less efficient with higher per capita costs and less capacity to deliver program breadth, limiting the educational opportunities available to students.”

Professor Lamb said the granting of more autonomy to schools in the 1990s came at a “huge cost” to poorer schools, which were “left behind, drained of students and resources, exposed to greater gaps in academic achievement and confronted with closures or consolidation”.

The tragedy is that the widening gap between rich and poor schools (or communities for that matter) impoverishes our economy as a whole. To lift our national productivity, governments of all persuasion need to take education seriously, beginning with investment, without the partisan ideology being offered by Howard. If needs as essential as education, health, access to housing etc, aren’t addressed in a rational way Australia will continue its transformation into a class-based society – the ‘have-a-lots-and-it-still-isn’t enough’ and the ‘have-nots’.

“In the souls of the people the grapes of wrath are filling and growing heavy, growing heavy for the vintage” – John Steinbeck

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Filed under: Economics, Education, Politics

2 Responses

  1. Dave Bath says:

    Bingo Slim!

    Mind you, anecdotal evidence suggests that the quality of education in two-horse town schools (6 year levels, 2 teachers) was quite good, and makes one think about what was present in those schools that small city schools can emulate.

    I’d be interested in your comments on a productivity and tertiary education post I wrote over at the DeadRoo, and the one on my skepticism about the “values” imparted by private secondary schools.

  2. slim says:

    Indeed, David, I teach in a small consolidated P-12 college which also has a primary campus in the next town up the coast. In Kennett’s day, the primary school faced either closure or merger. They opted for the merger.

    To underscore the importance of smaller regional and rural schools for maintaining the health of the community, the town with the primary campus is now outgrowing our town, enjoying a real estate boom and a growing vibrant, creative local tourist community. The school was and is an essential ingredient.

    Mind you, in an ideal world, we would be two separate mutually supportive schools. But you can’t have everything.

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