Myths about private education
Personal story from Monica Dix published in the Age
One thing you discover when you become a parent is that small children are real suckers. When my son was two, my husband had to restrain me from telling him that if he didn't eat his vegetables, his arms would fall off. "But he'll really believe you!" my alarmed husband insisted. "Precisely the point", I replied, as I tried to spoon steamed broccoli into his stubbornly closed mouth.
Children are prone to believing such things because they're still figuring out how the world works. When I was a kid, I understood citizen's arrest to be a real thing, and was constantly threatening my recalcitrant friends with incarceration. It was also generally agreed in my social group that doing too much karate could stifle your travel plans, for your hands would have to be registered as lethal weapons before you could enter the United States. I also believed, as did many of my Catholic peers, that using a tampon would deflower me. My friend Ann was convinced that riding a bicycle while in bathers was illegal, and that anyone caught in charge of a pushbike while so attired risked immediate arrest – probably by an irate citizen.
Think too hard about these myths and even a child will realise that they can't be true. But they're also kind of exciting and titillating, so most kids prefer to just accept them. Which is why they're so durable.
The same is true of many adult myths. My favourite, which is accepted by a remarkably high number of grown-up Australians, is that elite private schools are entitled to all the bells and whistles they enjoy because parents have paid for them. This quickly falls apart if you think about it. Private schools receive huge sums of money from the public purse; very nearly as much money as government schools. If that money was being used to keep struggling private schools afloat, then it might be justified. But in many cases it is in fact used to fund the educational "excellence" that we hear about in private school advertising campaigns – state-of-the-art sports grounds, pools, outstanding facilities of every kind. As commentator Jane Caro recently observed, one school is now providing on-site baristas, subsidised by our taxes.
The myth that underpins this – that parents are simply making a choice, and are themselves funding that choice – serves to obscure the gross inequality at the heart of our education system. The implication is that parents who send their kids to state schools should stop complaining about the under-resourced, overcrowded public system because they have chosen it. They weren't willing to pay, so their kids deserve what they get.
As a teenager I was acutely aware of this divide. It was first pointed out to me in grade 6, when one of my classmates informed me that the high school I'd be attending was a "dog school", the crap Catholic school where no one really wanted to send their kids. She, on the other hand, was going to the superior private school with hats, pressed uniforms and various state-of-the-art facilities.
Naturally, I was upset by the revelation that my school was for canines, as I'd naively assumed that my parents had chosen to send me there because it was closer to our home. But my classmate's spitefulness put me in my place, reminding me where I was from and what my parents could afford.
I don't know whether my nasty classmate got a better education than I did, but I'm pretty sure she would have come away with a greater sense of entitlement, and the self-confidence that typically goes with it. For entitlement grows naturally out of the myth that justifies the system. Her parents paid for her superior education, made sacrifices to afford it, so she was entitled to the benefits that it brought her.
Yet once you recognise that the taxpayer is footing a very substantial part of the bill, and that elite private schools are effectively siphoning away funds that could have gone into the state system, you see the equation very differently. Far from being entitled to anything, children who benefit from expensive private educations are in fact indebted to the ordinary taxpayers who subsidised their swimming complexes and their baristas. It's everyone else who made the sacrifice – sending their kids to underfunded state schools, while the private sector hogged the education dollar.
As we grow older most of us stop believing in myths such as citizen's arrest. When will Australia grow up and see through the education myths that are doing a disservice to all our children?
Disturbing story about school funding from the Sydney Morning Herald
The average public school student could receive up to $100 less a year in state and federal government funding than a similar independent school student by 2020 without the final two years of Gonski reforms, a new report has revealed.
The "Private school, public cost" report, due to be released on Friday by the former president of the NSW Secondary Principals Council, Chris Bonnor, and education researcher Bernie Shepherd, has found that state and federal government funding for nearly half of the nation's independent schools could outstrip public funding for the average public school within the next five years.
The reports authors also found that public funding for up to 75 per cent of Catholic schools across the country would outstrip funding for similar public schools by 2016.
Bonnor and Shepherd targeted their research at the average socio-educational ICSEA of 1000 to 1099. ICSEA measures the educational and occupational outcomes of a school's parents. It can range from a very disadvantaged school at 500 to a very advantaged school at 1300.
Data drawn from the MySchool database shows that less-advantaged public schools are already receiving equal public funding compared to more advantaged independent schools.
Rooty Hill High School, which educates more than 1000 students in Sydney's west, has a below average ICSEA of 958. It currently receives $10,469 in state and federal government funding per student.
The independent Shoalhaven Anglican School in Milton, which educates 300 students in the state's south, has an above average ICSEA of 1037. It only receives $6 less than Rooty Hill in state and federal funding per student before parent fees come into the equation.
Bonnor and Shepherd predict that funding pattern will continue across the country.
According to the report the median public school student will receive $11,350 in public funding by 2018, $380 less than the $11,720 for the median Catholic school student, while a similar independent student will receive $100 more than the comparable public school student by 2020.
The report does not take into account potential funding changes under future governments and is based on the latest available MySchool funding data to 2013, which does not allow for changes under Gonski.
The Association of Independent Schools said the report was misleading.
"The Productivity Commission has shown that government funding heavily favours students attending government schools, by a difference of almost $7000 per student. It's difficult to reconcile the outcome of this report with the reality of funding," said acting executive AIS director Michael Carr.
The Productivity Commission's figures take into account the value of a school's buildings as well as the high funding for special needs and very disadvantaged students in the public system, pushing up averages, according to Bonnor.
"In reporting the relative costs and claimed efficiencies in each sector it is essential to compare schools that enrol similar students. It is the only way of comparing apples with apples," he said.
The National Catholic Education Commission executive director Ross Fox echoed the Association of Independent Schools' concerns.
"Funding projections should be based on what has been announced by governments for future spending rather than continuing historical funding trends," Mr Fox said.( This coming from the education sector that sided with Abbott to withdraw critical Gonski funding)
The federal president of the Australian Education Union, Correna Haythorpe, called on the Abbott/ Turnbull government to join NSW and Victoria in providing the full six years of needs-based Gonski funding.
"This [pre-Gonski funding] was clearly unfair," she said. "We have ended up with ridiculous situations where private schools with high-SES students were receiving more government funding than public schools with low-SES students," she said.
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