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Archive for the 'Inequality' Category

School Leadership and School Autonomy

Sunday, September 29th, 2013

One of the several propositions advanced by the advocates of market (or neoclassical) economic solutions to education ‘problems’ is that independent schools achieve superior outcomes. Charter schools in the US and Academies in the UK continue to be supported despite compelling evidence that they do not address the principal drivers of student achievement. The reforms introduced by the Howard Government provided substantial additional support to independent schools. The latest international tests showed Australian student performance declining and inequity increasing!

The goal is to have individual schools take responsibility for staffing and budgets. Simultaneously this is linked to the proposition that community involvement be achieved by setting up school councils. There is a parallel in the health area with arguments that local hospitals be run by hospital boards comprising community representatives. There seems to be no recognition that governing boards are a very fraught area indeed and that school boards and hospital boards are not features of successful schools or hospitals in the countries where educational achievement and hospital outcomes are high!


Go to ‘School Leadership’ and ‘The South Side of Chicago’. The essays are edited versions of chapters in the forthcoming book Education Reform: the Unwinding of Intelligence and Creativity to be published by Springer.

What is wrong with the education debate?

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

The ideas developed about the education debate and the enumeration of the issues which I think are important, were summarised in an informal talk at the Ourimbah campus of the University of Newcastle in August 2012 arranged by the NSW Chapter of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia (ISAA).

Much of the problem arises from the focus on schools, which is where in fact students spend a relatively small amount of time, and ignores the time when greatest changes in brain architecture and cognition take place which is early childhood, and the principal influences which determine the quality of that development most of which relate to relative socioeconomic status. It is for these reasons that the principal indicator of student educational achievement is the socioeconomic status of the parents.

Continue to the Ourimbah talk.

Two essays which have appeared in recent months deserve special attention. One is by Carmen Lawrence, former Premier of Western Australia, Minister in the  Australian Government and a member of the panel on Education reform chaired by David Gonski.

‘Mind the Gap: Why the rising inequality of our schools is dangerous’ by Carmen Lawrence appeared in The Monthly for July 2012

The other is by the distinguished American educational researcher Professor David Berliner; this essay really brings together some of the most important issues concerning the relationship between educational achievement and inequality in the United States, a topic on which Berliner has written over the last couple of decades. The essay is ‘Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth’ and appears in Schools Matter for October 17 2012.

The introduction to Berliner’s essay says,

“The real education experts, academics who study and research education, teach at universities and colleges and are teachers themselves, produce volumes of peer reviewed articles, write books and give lectures to share their findings, ideas and solutions to improve education. The problem is those who control the purse strings in state education departments, government and at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, are held hostage by corporate interests who have hijacked our children’s pedagogy. With the new Common Core Standards adopted in more than 46 states, testing every kid, in every subject, and mining the data will only exacerbate the dysfunction and lead to the inevitable revolt we are already seeing across the country. Most parents, students and teachers living through this economic depression see scarce resources further dried up and spent on more testing and more data. Austerity in the poorest and neediest schools districts has exposed the harsh reality of three decades of failed education policy that ignores inequality and poverty.”


It is appropriate to mention another event. That is because of the influence of the media: yet again Australian media failed to take advantage of the visit to Australia by distinguished researchers, as it did a couple of years ago when the University of Melbourne hosted a major conference on Curriculum.

The website of the American Association for Educational Research, perhaps the leading education research organisation in the world, featured the following report.

“The World Education Research Association (WERA) held its annual Focal Meeting in conjunction with the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) and the Asia-Pacific Education Research Association (APERA) in Sydney, Australia. AERA leaders, including President William Tierney; Past Presidents Arnetha Ball, David Berliner, Eva Baker, and Carol Lee; and Executive Director Felice Levine, were participants at the AARE/APERA/WERA conference, held on December 2–6 at the University of Sydney.

“The AARE/APERA/WERA international conference included more than 1,200 paper presentations and symposia, with keynote addresses by AERA Past Presidents Berliner and Ball. In addition, there were twelve outstanding symposia designated as “invited symposia,” including an AERA guest symposium at which President Tierney spoke passionately about academic freedom. There were also two WERA invited symposia; one of them, entitled “Culture, Poverty, and Opportunity to Learn: International Cases of the Complexities of Addressing Race, Ethnicity, and Class in Education,” featured AERA Past President Lee as one of three presenters.”

The above info is from AERA Highlights 10 January 2013. Further information is at and numerous other sites.

So far as I can determine no Australian media featured any mention of this conference or any interview with the distinguished delegates. So much for media reporting of education, media which is often quite prepared to seize on the latest international tests to criticise Australian education without paying any attention to the  dynamics or principal reasons for achievement, quite apart from misrepresenting the performance of Australian students by selective and inappropriate use of statistics, as Professor Alan Reid pointed out in ‘A dumbed down debate, but those tests still hold some lessons’ (Sydney Morning Herald, December 19, 2012).

Economics and Educational Opportunity

Monday, April 2nd, 2012


There seem to be two worlds in which education reform, along with everything else, proceeds. In one a purely statistical and theoretical view of economics prevails. In the other sociology, a view informed by studies of the social interaction of people. To move from the former view to the latter is to enter through a kind of ‘green door’ from a society dominated by individual utility maximisation to one more concerned with social value and which recognises the sometimes irrational behaviour of people. One is based entirely in theory and has a utility related to its alleged predictability derived from sophisticated mathematics, a predictability which in most cases is at best difficult to test. The other is supported by extensive research on what people value and what they do not and how they actually behave in relation to their stated values.

These extracts from the essay on economics critique neoclassical economics and its application to education policy. Neoclassical economics and neoliberalism which is derived from it has gained substantial influence over the last 50 years. In that time economic growth in many countries has been accompanied by a number of important features. These include the application of notions about competition, choice and accountability to policies on schools and universities as well as early childhood. The last several decades have also seen increasing disparities in wealth within populations accompanied by “offshoring’ of many jobs in order to decrease costs. In several countries costs of education, of schools and of universities, have increased also. In the view of a number of economists this has led to a decline in the standards of education.

The focus on economics as if it is the basis of  human society has been criticised by a number of scholars and writers and the failure of neoclassical economic theory and practice seen in severe economic turbulence has led leaders of a number of nations to question its appropriateness. In other cases the deregulation advocated by the proponents of neoclassical economics have led to profound fluctuations in national and international economies with “speculative bubbles” being enhanced by use of complicated mathematical algorithms and complex financial instruments as well as artificially low interest rates and excessive lending and borrowing at individual, corporate, government and national levels.

These notes on economics accompany essays on community and inequality. It needs to be kept in mind that the socio-economic and educational levels of parents are the most accurate predictors of  children’s educational achievement. This is not because of some link with intelligence but with the profound differences in opportunities which are provided to those at higher economic and social levels.  The differences which these opportunities make are evident in the first year to 18 months.

Continue to Education – Introductory Background

Continue to A Word on EconomicsNeoclassical Economics : a Failure of Theory or a Theoretical Failure? and An Alternative View: Behavioural Economics


Education: Life’s Choices

Sunday, April 1st, 2012


This is an entirely new section of the website intended to contain extracts from a forthcoming publication of essays on education in almost all of its manifestations and relationships. The following summarises some of the main propositions and conclusions of the essays and outlines the content and scope of the essays.

The Book and the Essays

The set of essays in the upcoming publication will deal with education from early childhood to lifelong learning beyond and outside of school. The proposition is that achieving educational gains, which are important both individually and at the community and national level, depends on special attention to early childhood, to the nature of the school experience, the individual potential of students recognising that all are capable of success but that special attention is needed to those having difficulty achieving the required standard.

The principal thesis of the collection of essays is that many different things are connected. Attention to early childhood is essential: successful emergence from those early years is influenced by the social and economic circumstances of the family and also by the experiences of the mother when she was young. The health of the child is also influenced by the social and economic circumstances of the family and that in turn influences brain and cognitive development. The economic circumstances of the family are determined very much by the employment situation of the parents. High levels of unemployment likely lead to domestic problems which lead to poor health which reduces the likelihood of successful cognitive development. Economic and social conditions continue to influence the child’s educational development through school and  beyond.

Of the greatest importance is the fact that early childhood intervention has greatest impact on low socio-economic families: support for preschool and for parental leave is an employment issue – the usual focus of the debate – but it is much more importantly an educational  issue. The evidence is that especially in the case of low socio-economic families, simply having very young children minded by a friend or relative will not advantage the child’s cognitive development. A full fifty percent of the child’s achievement at school is determined by what the child brings to the school experience. If that has been poor it is far less likely that any subsequent intervention will overcome the deficit. Unless substantial additional resources are allocated!

At school and beyond successful learning comes from successful teaching which is enhanced by leadership at the principal level and other senior levels, encouragement of cooperation amongst teachers, and students, and setting of high standards of instruction and student achievement. It also requires superior recruitment, appropriate remuneration and significant trust.

The principal gain of education must be seen as advancing human development at the individual level, with gains which flow to the community broadly and secondarily to the economy. Primary emphasis on matters such as economic indicators and economic motivations and purposes are a break on achievement in the longer term.

It is intended that a very broad range of issues which affect educational outcomes be traversed, ranging from economics and community issues through early childhood to the nature of superior teaching and work issues concerning teachers such as pay and performance and school leadership, student issues including curriculum, standardised testing and the importance of creativity and its encouragement, to school issues including the debate about public as opposed to private and independent schools. Education outside and beyond school are also dealt with.

The recent experience of education reform in Australia, the UK and the USA and internationally generally as revealed by numerous international studies, especially the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be dealt with.

Whilst the 12 or so essays focus principally on Australia the context is international. The essays draw extensively on research papers and documents, media articles and books.

Conclusions are drawn as to what features are revealed by the experiences of various countries and the huge number of studies of education and the impact on educational outcomes of social and economic issues and government policies.

In the best education systems achievement is considered to be advanced by assuming that all students are capable of achieving success, that recruitment of teachers needs special attention, that teachers should be trusted to deliver professionally and that adequate time for training and development is essential. And so on. This view does not pay attention to beliefs in neoliberalism but emphasises cooperation and especially attention to those having difficulty in achieving their potential. Early childhood development is recognised as essential to later educational achievement.

As to the research in education it is often asserted that there are many significant uncertainties even on such fundamental issues as to what constitutes effective teaching! Forgotten is the fact that there is no area of human endeavour in which knowledge is complete, let alone perfect. However, to assert that knowledge and understanding of the most fundamental aspects of education are lacking is nonsense! Knowledge and understandings available now are more than sufficient to make the most critical decisions to support superior learning outcomes.

For instance, despite high quality research by many different people and groups that show that merit pay does not lead to improved performance of teachers and therefore higher achievement of students (or even to higher performance of other professionals and very probably all persons in organisations, nonprofit and commercial alike), there are those who continue to refer to economic studies (which anyway are at the very best inconclusive) and for the most part discount other research which does not support the proposition they favour. That in such a contentious area any introduction of merit pay would be not only opposed but understandably disputed as to its merits leading to unproductive conflict seems to be ignored.

There are similar situations with issues such as standardised testing, the curriculum, school leadership, early childhood intervention, university teaching and organisation and so on. In the US research by educators funded by the Federal Government was required to conform to the same level of rigour as research in the pharmaceutical industry which, to anyone familiar with the area, is a nonsense!

The essays in this section are extracts. I hope they give the flavour of what is intended.

Continue to the Introduction