Victoria’s Education Act of 1872 instituted free, secular and compulsory education through a centrally-run state system in the then-colony, a model that was quickly adopted by the other states and territories. Now, it seems that Tony Abbott and the Coalition would like to undo 140 years of history, according to their “Real Solutions” election manifesto. They’d like to privatize the government school system. It’s there in black and white:
“We will work with the states to encourage State schools to become independent schools, providing simpler budgeting and resource allocation and more autonomy in decision making”.
Are they serious? They’re just slipping this one-sentence proposal in and will claim a mandate for it after the election? Potentially the most radical shakeup of the P-12 school system in Australia’s history?
My guess is that the idea is a local variation of the American conservative mania for “Charter schools“, though, unlike the American charter schools, there is no obligation for Australian independent schools to deliver secular education, or open access.
In the American context, the evidence that charter schools are actually any better than traditional public schools is extremely weak, at best. Stanford CREDO’s charter school study suggests very little difference in results between traditional public and charter schools, though impoverished students do seem to do somewhat better at them. Of course, in Australia, the traditional way the (non-Catholic) independent school sector deals with impoverished students is to not educate them, leaving them to the government school system. There’s nothing whatsoever in the proposal to suggest that will change.
As the Gonski review documented, schools concentrated in Australia’s pockets of disadvantage are underperforming. The “Real Solutions” devoted to education, of which this nugget is perhaps the most outrageous but is broadly representative of the thinking, shows no recognition of the real challenges Australia’s school system faces, or any serious attempt to address them.