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Issues - Education - Gonski Madness

Sometimes a journalist captures the reality of a situation so well, that we feel compelled to share his or her ideas.  Whilst this article does not necessarily reflect the policies and ideas of Australian Voice, we reproduce Greg Sheridan's article in its entirety to promote further discussion and debate.

Throwing more money at education does not guarantee better results for our young people.  On the contrary, it seems that increased funding often just leads to further waste and unaccountable outcomes.  Instead of focussing on serving the Australian people, our bureaucrats seem more interested in clutching at opportunities to build empires and to push their own personal socio-political agendas.

In this case, "Gonski 2.0" would seem to be more about bullying the States into giving up more control over education to Canberra, than representing any genuine attempt to come up with a better or fairer education system.  

Education was never intended as a function of the Canberra elite.  It was always a State responsibility.  What the Liberals are presently proposing is arguably counter-productive to a strong Federal system in which the States are free to compete with each other and free to reflect local priorities in education.

The article also draws attention to the intellectual poverty of today's Liberal Party and confirms our belief that neither major Party is offering leadership to our nation.

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Every so often a single policy episode illustrates the decline of a nation or at least its public policy culture. Gonski 2.0 is such a case.

It deserves a place on university courses for study of the worst possible policy produced by the worst possible process. It also indicates the more or less complete political bankruptcy of the federal Liberal Party, its comprehensive capitulation to Labor in political ideas.

Way back in the late 1970s when Malcolm Fraser had crushed Labor for a time, I recall the great Dick Klugman describing to me what Labor’s budgetary policy was. It was simply to take whatever deficit Fraser produced and add a billion.

Now, the Liberals’ basic policy is to do whatever Labor was going to do, but a billion or two less, thereby claiming a faux fiscal responsibility.

Politically, this tactic will ultimately be disastrous. It also furnishes very bad policy.

The shocking pass to which we’ve come was evident in the Prime Minister announcing, after he had decided to spend $23.5 billion of new and additional money on school education over the next decade, that he would have an inquiry, to be headed by the ubiquitous David Gonski, to work out how to spend the money.

This is almost national policy as a Yes Minister send-up.

Over the past couple of decades we have consistently spent more and more money per student and achieved lower and lower academic results.

Over several decades I have spent quite a lot of time in East Asian classrooms, in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and elsewhere. East Asian classrooms typically spend far less per student than we do and get far better results.

Both these data points — Australia’s experience and the East Asian comparison — indicate that more money of itself is unlikely to produce better results. Most of this money I suspect is destined to go in pay rises and make-work schemes.

The Liberals have been in office for four years and have not produced any credible reform or plan to tackle education problems.

We know pretty well what would improve results:

  • A concentration on phonics in early literacy teaching,
  • A much heavier time investment directly into teaching literacy and numeracy in infants and primary school,
  • Greater autonomy for principals to hire and fire,
  • The compulsory study of Maths, Science and English, most [of] the way through the system, and
  • A new emphasis on substance in those three key areas, content and chronological narrative in history, the reassertion of the teacher’s authority in the classroom and the principal’s authority in the school — all the things the Liberals once believed in.

Gonski is a pure Labor policy, constructed by the Labor Party, by the adviser Labor got to do the job, and giving overwhelming emphasis, as failed Labor policies have traditionally done, to education resource inputs, and no emphasis to outputs.

So accepting the Gonski model at all represents comprehensive capitulation by the Liberal Party. It no longer has the capacity to wage and win any serious political or intellectual argument. Under the new paradigm, the Liberals apparently will make their pitch the narrowest, most bloodless and forlorn managerialism: we will implement Labor’s policies slightly less expensively, and perhaps more competently.

One problem with this approach is that if the public is offered a choice of Labor policies by the party that believes in them, or by the party that until five minutes ago thought such policies rubbish, it’s not likely they will choose the latter.

This Australian debacle of Gonski 2.0 fits an international pattern. Generally, the political paradigm is shifting to the left in Western politics. Even Donald Trump, at first blush the exception to this, fits this model with his protectionism and, during the campaign anyway, support for all social spending.

The Liberals, even in government, are weak now intellectually, institutionally and financially. They offer no serious contest to the drift in the zeitgeist.

That has one big problem. It is very difficult to recruit activists, or to convince people to donate money, to a party that has simply adopted all the other side’s policies. There is in all this perhaps an existential crisis looming for the Liberal Party.

On top of all that, there is the astonishing incompetence with which Gonski 2.0 was constructed.

It repudiates every Liberal value in public policy.  It seeks to centralise funding and policy power over school education in Canberra by forcing the states to meet Canberra’s funding requirements. This penalises efficient states and rewards inefficient states.

The push for greater control in education in Canberra is potentially disastrous. In NSW, as premier, Bob Carr was able to insist on a history curriculum with substance, and to insist that Shakespeare be reinserted as a compulsory part of the English curriculum, because NSW education was independent of Canberra diktats.

Carr’s decisions, overruling his own bureaucrats and indifferent to Canberra’s wishes, untroubled by the nonsense of a national curriculum, were absolutely right. They indicate the glorious possibilities of a federal system.

This was once a core belief for Liberals but it is not clear what core beliefs Liberals now hold. Indeed it’s only five minutes ago that Turnbull himself was proposing the reform of transferring all financial responsibility for government schools to the states, but that thought bubble was too hard and therefore quickly abandoned.

But as Trump and Jeremy Corbyn both demonstrate, some radical ideas, if you actually believe in them, can have an electoral appeal. In any event it’s better to die on your feet than die on your knees.

The government’s excuse for most bad policy these days is:  the Senate made me do it.

There is no doubt we now live in an extremely difficult political environment, but if that is the sum total of the political ambition of the Liberal Party, the question once again is: why would anybody whose pay cheque didn’t depend on it devote any energy on behalf of the Liberal Party?

Simon Birmingham has shown himself to be a politically incompetent Education Minister, whose efforts to get a nod of approval from the Coalition’s most determined critics in the ABC and the Fairfax press have come at the expense of plain dealing and the government’s own relationship with the critically important Catholic education sector, of which he seems to have no understanding, nor the remotest sympathy.

The Catholic education system is neither capitalist nor socialist, it is Catholic. The schools are a work of the Catholic Church. Their administrative arrangements are complex and involve social solidarity and system-wide commitment. A politician with even a single germ of Burkean wisdom would understand them as a rich, brilliant, organic, autonomous institution that Liberals should respect and support.

To give them a much lower increase than other sectors will expose them to grave long-term cost disadvantages. They educate kids cheaply and effectively and parents love them. A conservative government with an IQ above room temperature would cherish that.

Nothing generates destructive red tape more malevolently than a bureaucratic desire for uniformity. This is typically a socialist failing. I suppose in current circumstances it’s not astonishing that the Liberals have caught this disease.


FROM:  http://www.theaustralian.com.au/opinion/columnists/greg-sheridan/modern-liberals-are-rotten-to-their-core-beliefs/news-story/435b7c99ffbce407b15624f2f07acf8b

Greg Sheridan is Foreign Editor for The Australian newspaper