Sunday, June 1, 2014

Equity - the real issue in falling education standards.

Are we burying our heads or is equity the real issue in falling standards?
There is an increasing gap in Australia between the rich and the poorIt has been suggested that the recent federal budget will further increase inequality in Australia. IAustralia and Britain, as of 2007,  the wealthiest 1% of the population earned 20% of all income. In Canada the top 1% earned 37% while America set the bar at an alarming 47%. According to Richard Wilkinson, these advanced societies are not only less equitable but have greater problems, not only in wealth distribution, but also in educational standards, health, substance abuse, social problems, and consequently have have larger prison populations. 

This situation is typically reflected in the educational performance of the Australian states and territories. It is not surprising that the most equitable states do better on PISA and national tests while the states and territories that have a bigger gap between rich and poor and lower educational opportunity do less well.  Despite this inequality, the Australian government's response is the promotion of a market driven approach whereby public schools will be able to have more autonomy in such matters as the hiring and firing of staff and possibly with staff renumeration. However, this can only increase the inequity of our education system and result in the further decline of our educational standards.

The OECD conducts a series of international student surveys in more than 70 countries to assess the knowledge and skills of 15 year olds in Mathematics, Science and Reading.  The PISA results show that in the year 2000 Australia performed 2nd only to Finland in reading on the PISA international tests. The Finnish school system has been less affected by family backgrounds than in most other countries and has been considered to be one of the most equitable among the OECD countries.  However, even in Finland, there is an increasing inequality and, as a consequence their PISA test scores are slipping. Australia's scores on PISA are also noticeably in decline, in 2012 the reading scores slipped to tenth position. According to Peter Job the performance of Australian education has been put at risk due to a politicisation of education and a declining respect for teacher professionalism. 

There has been a push for the publishing of league tables for the national testing (NAPLAN) results and also a push for higher performance pay. This is despite international evidence that such schemes are less than productive. There seems to be an assumption that poor teacher quality is the reason for falling standards. The continued promotion of this assumption can only lead teachers to believe that they are not appreciated and deter others from entering the teaching profession. Instead of creating a system that rewards some and punishes others it would be better to remove the inequalities within our society and in the education systems. 

See the links below for more on the topic:

A Teacher's guide to PISA reading literacy

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