Australia focuses on improving academic resources

September 7, 2012

A special commission of the Australian government has been hard at work for the last two years examining how to improve the nation’s education system. Their baseline findings say that Australian academic performance had declined, and that more resources are needed. Australian Broadcasting Corporation reported on the findings of the Gonski Commission (named after its chairman businessman David Gonski):

The report says the performance of Australian students has declined at all levels over the last 10 years.

It says in 2000, only one country outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy, and only two outperformed Australia in mathematical literacy.

But by 2009, six countries outperformed Australia in reading and scientific literacy, and 12 had students who were better at maths. (The entire show is here)

Taking a broader approach than the United States, which in 2001 passed the federal law known as “No Child Left Behind,” Australia has determined that school funding reform is the best framework for improving student performance. From the Gonski Report which is formally named the “Review of Funding for Schools Report“:

National priorities and reforms have also been agreed by all governments through the Council of Australian Governments to progress the national goals. Key policy directions under the National Education Agreement include improving teacher quality and school leadership, greater accountability and better directed resources, integrated strategies for low socioeconomic school communities, and improving the outcomes of Indigenous students. National curriculum is being developed to set clear achievement standards for all students.

While these reforms lay a good foundation for addressing Australia’s schooling challenges, they need to be supported by an effective funding framework.

The recommendations of the report, in effect, nationalize the funding framework and school curriculum. The ABC detailed the funding proposal:

The report says state and federal governments must work together to coordinate funding more effectively. It recommends a two-tiered model called the ‘schooling resource standard’. The standard would form the basis for working out all school funding, and would be reviewed every four years. The standard should include a ‘per student’ amount, with adjustments for students and schools facing certain additional costs.

Base funding would be set for every student at the amount deemed necessary to educate a student in well-performing schools, where at least 80 percent of students achieve above the national literacy and numeracy minimum standard. The report suggests the base amount could be about $8,000 per primary student, and about $10,500 for secondary students.

There would be extra loadings for disadvantage such as disability, low socioeconomic background, school size, remoteness, the number of Indigenous students, and lack of English proficiency.

Australian policymakers are now working to determine how to raise the necessary funding to implement the report’s findings.

In the United States it would be fairly radical to propose combining the federal, state and local school funding streams in an organized way. Per pupil expenditures vary widely across the country and even within a state.

Australia, which ranks eighth globally for academic performance, is 14 places higher than the United States. Maybe U.S. policymakers might want to have a look at Australia’s efforts before that nation moves up even higher in the ranks.

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