The tug-o-war over the Gonski education funding model continues despite Federal Education Minister Simon Birmingham wanting to make changes that are designed to cost taxpayers less but still deliver needs-based funding to schools. Gonski has become a bit of a patchwork quilt with something like 27 separate school funding agreements in place with various states, territories and education sectors.
Naturally Labor and those states and territories that originally signed up are against any changes in part, because the money has already been used to fund new programs and positions in schools. Negotiations with various education ministers will continue to play out and while no-one appears to be holding their breath on this, the debate seems to be focused on what is sufficient when it comes to educational equity, rather than what is necessary.
The discussion around equity has largely been pinned on funding and who has/deserves the biggest share of the pie. The argument goes something like, the more money a school receives, the better the outcomes. In fact, Kevin Donnelly in his recent piece on Gonski quoted researchers Woessmann and Hanushek who conceded that how [educational] money is spent is more important than how much is spent.
Pete Goss from the Grattan Institute reiterated that point when he wrote last month that “our education results will not change if we continue to spend money in the same way…it must be spent effectively so that it has the greatest impact on students”. We know that one of the greatest impacts on students is teacher quality. This, in itself, is as Professor Stephen Dinham continues to point out, the biggest (and ever-widening) equity issue we face is ensuring a quality teacher in every classroom. As Stephen says, it’s the variation in teaching and practice, school performance and resourcing is ‘driving the whole educational system down’.
What is clear is that too many invested in education are reading from different pages when it comes to the equity issue in Australian schools. The debate must be centred on how to systematically improve teacher capacity and therefore their effectiveness across all schools and sectors. According to Dylan Wiliam there is already a considerable body of evidence demonstrating how to make teachers significantly more effective (this has to do with their development of classroom formative assessment). The problem however is that these approaches are not easily scaleable.
What is needed is a coherent framework that links sensible educational policy to funding – not the other way around. The debate over equity needs to be data and evidence driven not resource driven if we are to see both teacher and student improvement in every single school.
As the Business Council of Australia’s chief executive, Jennifer Westacott recently said in an address, teacher quality has to be at the top of the agenda. When it comes to equity, making teachers more effective is the only thing worth giving a Gonski about.