Myschool’ Website: Short-Sighted Policy on Public Vs Private in Australia
The public and private school debate has elevated in Australia.
While choice has always been part of Australian schooling, governments of all political hues have been enhancing their commitment to educational choice by increasing funding to the non-government sector (Forsey, Davies, & Walford, 2008).
The Australian Minister of Higher Education has spearheaded a project spending $3 million on research and creating a website “Myschool” that uses national standardized tests to compare performance of socio-economically and demographically similar schools across the country. Any parent and community member can now search and compare profiles of almost 9,500 Australian schools.
The launch of the website has raised several major issues regarding the private versus public debate in the field of education, questioning sociocultural ideology behind school ‘choice.’
There are several issues not only with school choice but also with how the website goes about comparing such schools. Forsey et al. (2008) note several reasons for why parents find ‘school choice’ so crucial. The first is self-segregation (a trend of a specific population group trying to separate itself for self-interest) – otherwise known as ‘white flight.’ It often results in wealthier families self-segregating themselves in better performing schools. Other reasons include higher level of placement testing (schools with higher average of standardized test scores) and concerted cultivation (parent expectations for structure and child-rearing support through the education system.)
It would appear that the government run website has embraced these facts, stating specifically that its purpose is to “locate statistical and contextual information about schools in your community and compare them with statistically similar schools across the country.”
How does the website compare such schools? This is where more problems arise…
The website compares the socio-economical background with the schools performance in ‘NAPLAN’ testing. The socio-economical status is judged by examining family background information provided to schools directly by families, including parental occupation, and the school education and non-school education levels they achieved. In some cases, where this information is not available, ICSEA uses Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) Census data on family background to determine a set of average family characteristics for the districts where students live. Where as the NAPLAN is based on two subjects (literacy and numeracy) and includes 40 questions. NAPLAN collects data on a national level every two years and it forgoes arts, science, health, music and the ability to function as a part of the community. It thus reflects an extremely narrow conceptualization of the broader purposes of schooling.
Another controversial point is about the use of the data on the school background (ICSEA), i.e. where the school sits on the socio-economic scale. The website shows whether a particular school is doing better, worse or about the same as schools that are statistically similar in their demographic group. In a way, it is directly naming and shaming Australian public schools and specifically singling out those in the lower socio-economic areas.
Another related and highly contested issue is the use of public funds in the private sector. The below numbers, which are taken directly from the website, reveal the funding of one of the most elite private schools in Sydney compared to one of the low-achieving public schools. When looking at the below charts, on the surface, a reader would notice both some discrepancy in the amount of money spent per student and unbelievably different academic results.
|Private: Sydney Church of England Grammar School, North Sydney, NSW|
|Total (including deductions)||$34,134,46||$ 21,631|
|Public: Chifley College Shalvey Campus, Shalvey NSW|
|Total (including deductions)||$6,843,842||$16,898|
This can’t be all there is to education. Money in, against scores out.
The short-sightedness of comparing the scores of the wealthy private scores against the low socio-economic means we’ve already given up on the majority of our population in such areas.
But our seemingly poor scoring low socio-economic schools do so much more. Let’s for a second forget that these kids may have less educated parents or less resources at home to help bolster scores. Schools for these students are more than just a place to memorize grammar and mathematical equations. Shalvey School (listed above) offers home cooking skills (whether for the students or their family), fitness classes, healthy cooking classes, getting kids involved with club sports, Smith Family I-track program for 20-30 students being mentored online from business people in the community about goal setting and personal development, University of Western Sydney student mentoring with pathway, Impact club for outdoor, home handy man and film course, learning grounds program for Aboriginal students focusing on number and literacy development, classes for women to make prom dresses while learning about community issues.
The school also offers classes for parents on how to use of computers, help students with homework, use numbers around the house, and improve literacy.
These schools are making communities stronger, they are making communities safer and maybe, just maybe (although not in standardized tests) they are making these communities smarter.
*Forsey, M., Davies, S. & Walford, G. (2008). The globalization on school choice? An introduction to key issues and concerns. In M. Forsey, S. Davies, & G. Walford (Eds.), The globalization of school choice? (pp. 9-26). Oxford: Symposium Books.
Living in Mississippi seeing the division of resources between two school systems in the same geographic area with their inherent fixed costs of administration and building overhead, it only makes sense to keep students together. Both for the expansion of their outlook of life through diversity and the caliber of education.
Interesting James – I’d like to argue a couple of points with you in person!
Great article. In my opinion, one of the major problems with the MySchool website which you touched upon is the extremely narrow band of data which it uses to make (quite important) judgements on schools. NAPLAN itself further narrows this band to really just testing fundamental maths and literary skills which many of the “high-performing” schools tailor their teaching to. This can create a system of rote-learning and this pursuit of test scores can , as you mentioned, be at the cost of extra-curriculars and important life skills.
On a semi-related tangent, with the proposed ranking and bonuses paid to high performing teachers, with consequences for “poor” performance, MySchool and this culture of ranking based on statistics may further damage our schools as teachers deliberately seek to steer themselves away from supposed “bad” schools. This can only seek to further damage already disadvantaged schools and those who go to them in essence creating a sort of class structure.
Hopefully, proper reforms can prevent this from happening.
John, couldn’t agree more. Unfortunately this policy is also partially adopted in the US with the ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy. Only continuing the inequalities of education.
James, I think your closing idea about low scoring socio-economic schools brings up a great point. School for some students goes beyond memorizing facts or taking tests. Some students rely on schools as safe havens where they can feel comfortable to try new things and learn life-long skills.
It saddens me that there is a lack of standardization in the Australian Education System. I believe there needs to be a Federal intervention to ensure students at non private and public schools are not disadvantaged relative to those who attend private schools.
Don’t get me started on the fact that every state is different
Hey James interesting article, I have some statistics you might want to see then from the OECD, Finland is kicking everyones butts on standardized tests, they use a sort of socialist school system, instead of competition there is cooperation. I think it sits in line with your article.
so, the inherent weakness of MySchool that it relies too heavily upon quantitative indicators and, therefore, too lightly upon qualitative indicators?
and what about the frequent anecdotal evidence of schools manipulating their NAPLAN results?
I really think that the MySchool website has great limitations. It started with a flurry and was given publicity but really has lost its relevance. There have been many ‘holes’ punched into the reaity that is portrayed by the data. Really how do you judge a school by one test sat by kids on one day. It is really ridiculous. The anecdotes that you hear regarding this test do have some basis in reality. having seen one students work with a teacher for quite some months to lift his literacy levels, he then underwent Naplan and the teacher watched him pick up his pen, and colour in random A,B,C,D choices without even opening the stimulus book. Great judge of his ability!!!!
In relation to Will’s comment – there is now being implemented a national curriculum – so that addresses to some extent the differences between states in that area but yes, funding will continue to a major issue.
Interesting take on this subject. I’m looking forward to a follow up as you’ve definitely piqued my interest.
Pitting schools against each other in these sorts of league tables shifts the focus away from the real issues. Such a shame to see politicians support such superficial assessments of our education system.
Local schools know their communities and have done their own diagnostic testing to inform their programming of lessons. Social programs are constructed to best suit the needs of each cohort to improve their quality of life and their future opportunities. It’s the measure of improvement in academic performance rather than in raw scores that gauges the success of a school. The degree of improvement in students’ lifeskills is just as important for the local community and for society as a whole.
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After working in a range of public schools that cater for low socio-economic families, I have seen a lot, and definitely become a more broad minded person! I believe that a lot of schools feel pressured by NAPLAN testing, to the point where children are being trained for the tests in year one and two. Perhaps this stems from the schools wanting to maintain a high public image, to prove to the community that they are providing successful education for the students, and to compete with fellow schools in the area.
However, I strongly agree that NAPLAN is not indicative of students overall performance in schools, as it provides only a snippet of the students ability… in test taking! The majority of errors in the test stem from students misinterpreting the questions or not comprehending what they are asking, whereas, if the question was reworded students would better be able to answer. So therefore, NAPLAN is not a true indicator of the work that teachers put in to support their students’ learning.
On another point, I was interested to see the difference in public vs private spending/budgets. I don’t believe that the amount of money spent in schools makes that much of a difference. I have taught at schools with little resources, however students were happily engaged in learning and keen to share their successes. I believe that the calibre of teachers is the most important tool in educating students. A passionate teacher instils a love of learning in ther students. They treat their class like an extended family and pour a bit of their soul into their class, much like an artist completing a masterpiece. Even with no funding, some teachers would be up each night making self-bought resources to assist students in their learning. Money can’t buy passion!