Flat world: fair funding

Those of us working in education are eagerly awaiting the Government’s initial response to the Gonski review of school funding on Monday.  This will be the first major review of funding for schools since the 1970s, which is why it’s such an emotionally charged issue for education systems and unions,  and a hot potato for the Government.

From where I sit, the debate around school funding has divided rather than unified. Old battle lines between public vs private seem to have detracted from an intelligent discussion on how we can go about the business of improving student learning outcomes by ensuring quality teachers in every classroom.

Schools are as diverse as the students who attend them so we can’t talk about private or public schools as if they were homogenous entitites.  Not every school has the same resource levels or teacher quality as its neighbour and we know that some public schools are in a much better financial state than non government schools.

Any discussion about our education system should not be reduced to an ‘us vs them’ argument – its success relies on delivering value for money for tax-payers, choice for parents and fair and equitable funding for all sectors.  Diversity is the new norm and any model of funding should support this while guaranteeing equity.

In the Flat World and Education, Linda Darling-Hammond states that the ‘norm’ in developed nations is funding education systems centrally and equally with ‘additional resources’ going to schools where student needs are greater.

Darling-Hammond goes on to say that high achieving nations make equitable investments that are more focussed on key elements of the education system – quality of teacher and teaching, schools as learning organisations and curriculum and assessments that encourage ambitious learning. This is how we close the achievement gap by focussing on the things that make the greatest difference to student learning.

In considering the implications of the Gonski review, Minister Garrett said they had further work to do because “it’s an issue that lies right at the heart of our prospects as a nation”.

Imagine an education policy environment where the discussion about funding were at the periphery and the ways of building teacher and leaders capacities to improve learning and teaching were at the centre of this discussion.

At the end of the day we all share a common goal to deliver high quality education. If the world is flat, then so must be the playing field for all students.


5 thoughts on “Flat world: fair funding

  1. Well said Greg, A focus on how to ensure that we attract, retain and support high quality professionals in all schools. We also need to look at how we support system costs; curriculum development, assessment tools and professional learning from actual in-school costs, so that all systems share the cost of developing and maintaining the Australian Curriculum and its resources.

  2. I’m with you on this Greg. Since I arrived in Australia just over a year ago, it’s been disheartening to see so much of the media focus on education has been about the divisive issue of school funding, rather than the uniting issue of improving teaching and learning.

    I’ve already noticed that the two sides of the Gonski report conclusions (potential financial ‘winners’ & ‘losers’) have started to pitch their stories again – and the proposed route forward – more consultation – gives them a chance to keep going in the debate about funding without spending time on the discussion of improving teaching and learning.

    But what’s significant (and lost so far by most of the media coverage) is that the conclusion of the Gonski Report’s Executive Summary, on page XIX isn’t about funding, but about the need for good, empowered principals and teachers:

    Executive Summary Conclusion: Page XIX

    Conclusion

    The panel accepts that resources alone will not be sufficient to fully address Australia’s schooling challenges and achieve a high-quality, internationally respected schooling system. The new funding arrangements must be accompanied by continued and renewed efforts to strengthen and reform Australia’s schooling system.

    Australia’s schools, government and non-government, should be staffed with the very best principals and teachers, those who feel empowered to lead and drive change, and create opportunities for students to learn in new ways to meet their individual needs. Classrooms should support innovative approaches to learning, not only through the curriculum, technologies and infrastructure, but also through the culture of the school. Principals and teachers should encourage a culture of high expectations, continuous learning, and independence and responsibility for all students. They should also forge connections with parents and the community, as key partners in children’s learning and attitudes to school.

    For these practices to be championed in every school, the Australian Government and state and territory governments must continue to work together, in consultation with the non-government school sector, to progress the current school reform agenda. Australia and its children and young people, now and in the future, deserve nothing less.

    1. Excellent observations Ray – thanks for sharing the report’s Exec Summary. It’s significant in that the Gonski panel recognise that $$$ alone won’t guarantee our success as a knowledge nation. Our focus must be unashamedly on improving learning and teaching in every classroom. Once developed, the school as ‘an innovative learning community’ becomes an organisational model that powerfully stimulates ongoing school reform.

      1. I would also agree with the comment made by Ray Flemming about improving learning and teaching and making use of every resource available. With regard to this, I recall from my memory that I read a poem which was written by an eminent American poet, R. W. Emerson’s lines:

        Not gold but only men can make

        A people great and strong;

        Men who for truth and honor’s sake

        Stand fast and suffer long.

        Brave men who work while others sleep

        Who dare while others fly—

        They build a nation’s pillars deep,

        And lift them to the sky. — Ralph Waldo Emerson

        It is undoubtedly high time that we need to focus on teaching and learning so as to achieve the best results that we aim for.

  3. Greg, I like your argument that the business of school leaders is ensuring a quality teacher in every classroom. That is certainly something that unites us all.

    The ideas from Linda Darling-Hammond also resonate including that we need to have curriculum and assessments that encourage “ambitious learning”. This could also be a catch cry to unite all sectors of the education community.

    I’m ever the optimist, and I hope that another issue that could unite all sectors of the education community is ensuring fair outcomes for all students, including our most disavantaged. To me this means that we do need to ensure that, as Linda Darling-Hammond argues, additional resources should go to schools where student needs are greater. It is essential that schools serving communities have the certainty of additional significant funding to plan with certainty and enable them to really make a difference.

    Ray argues that it’s not all about funding, and it certainly isn’t. Our most disadvantaged communities certainly need a quality teacher in every classroom. They most certainly need principals and teachers who feel empowered to drive and lead change. But I believe they also need additional resources to ensure that the opportunities their students have for success are fair. To me this is the key issue in the Gonsky review.

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