Thursday, September 22, 2011

Huge rejection of government High Schools in Australia

On previous occasions, I have extrapolated from State statistics that about 40% of Australian High School students go to private schools. This compares with about 7% in England and probably reflects at least in part the greater Government financial support for private schools in Australia. But private schooling is still a considerable expense for families so the 40% figure probably represents just about every family that can afford those expenses.

Government schools are clearly on the nose. Discipline has largely been abolished there over the last couple of decades so such schools have a reputation for being chaotic and thus providing a poor learning environment.

Although I attended State schools myself, I sent my son to a local private school. There are so many private schools in Australia that one does not usually have to travel far to find one. At his school my son had (male) teachers who were enthusiastic about mathematics, something rarely found in State schools, I'll warrant. Since my son now has a B.Sc. with honours in mathematics and is working on his Ph.D. in the subject, he is an example of the effect that school choice can have.

Fortunately, my 40% estimate can now be firmed up. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has just released Australia-wide data on schools. See the excerpt below. It turns out that for Australia as a whole I was only one percentage point off. The figure is 39%, not 40%:

In 2010, there were 3.5 million students formally enrolled in all Australian schools (an increase of 7% since 2000). Of these students, seven in ten (66%) were enrolled in government schools, two in ten (20%) in Catholic schools and one in ten (14%) in Independent schools (compared with 69%, 20% and 11% respectively in 2000).

Although government schools continue to educate the majority of students in Australia, the number of students enrolled in non-government schools has been increasing at a faster rate over the last decade. Since 2000, Catholic and Independent schools had the largest proportional increases in the number of students (11% and 37% respectively) while the number of students in government schools increased by only 1.3%.

In 2010, there was little difference between the proportions of male and female students enrolled in government and non-government schools.

In primary and secondary schools

In 2010, around two million students were enrolled in primary schools and around 1.5 million students were enrolled in secondary schools. A higher proportion of students were enrolled in government primary (69%) and secondary (61%) schools than students enrolled in non-government primary and secondary schools. The proportion of students enrolled in Catholic and Independent schools was lower in primary schools (19% and 11% respectively) compared with secondary schools (22% and 17% respectively).

Many students may not remain in one particular type of school (government or non-government) for their entire schooling. For example, some students may attend a government primary school and complete their education in a non-government secondary school.

A media report on some other aspects of the new ABS data here. Private school graduates are much more likely to go on to univerity etc.

Michigan on Brink of Massive Education Reform

On Friday September 9, Michigan State Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville (R-Monroe) announced he would introduce legislation giving teachers in his state right to work protections. The bill already has the support of Michigan House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall.) Richardville’s Freedom to Teach Act would allow teachers in Michigan to choose whether or not to join a union. Currently, Michigan educators are forced to pay union dues simply to keep their jobs.

In his press release Richardville said he wants to “keep more money in the pockets of teachers.” The Majority Leader noted that the money taken in the form of forced dues “belongs to the teacher that earned it [and that] it is up to them to contribute based on personal choice, not because the school district extracts it from paychecks and deposits it in the hands of the union bosses.”

The bill is part of several education reforms giving more choice to teachers, parents, and children. Among other reforms are bills which would allow the expansion of charter schools and allow access to online learning. Last week, the Michigan House passed a bill, which would not go as far as Richarville’s but would bar the state from collecting dues for teachers unions.

Rep. Joe Haveman (R-Holland), the bill's primary sponsor told The Detroit News, "I don't understand how giving people money back in their paycheck is a bad thing … It makes [unions] more accountable.” Yet that may be precisely what the union and its allies don’t want. Leading opposition to the bill is Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer (D-East Lansing), whom Richardville criticized for wanting to “to continue to see hundreds of dollars removed from teachers pay to support a $200,000-a-year plus salary for union bosses who haven't seen the inside of a class room in years.”

With the backing of the leaders in both houses Freedom to Teach is likely to pass—even without help from Republican Governor Rick Snyder, who recently said during a televised town hall meeting that Richardville’s bill is not on his agenda. This is the same position Governor Snyder holds on more encompassing right to work legislation for the state, but he has said that he would sign a right to work bill if it came to his desk.

The Governor’s reticence on labor reform may be due to his trying to muster support for other priorities, including a controversial publicly financed bridge from Canada to Detroit.

The Senate Minority Leader has warned Snyder that Freedom to Teach could jeopardize cooperation with the bridge project. Whitmer told the Michigan news website, "If they really want to reach across the aisle and try to build support . . . they've got to take some of these issues (Right to Teach) off the table or we're going to get mired in partisan battles and that doesn't help anybody."

Ironically if Democrats oppose the bridge because of Freedom to Teach they will harm other unions. Buried in the pending legislation authorizing the bridge are handouts to organized labor such as hiring set-asides for union members as consultants for the project. The project would also be subject to state prevailing wage laws—which generally set wages closer to inflated union wages rather than market pay rates and can increase costs by up to 22 percent.

Aside from inter-union squabbles caused by pulling support for the bridge as a result of Freedom to Teach, the Michigan Education Association (MEA), the state’s largest teachers union, may have problems if right to work is given to teachers. Tom Garnet of the Mackinac Center reports that John Ellsworth, a former MEA local president, estimates that between 10 percent and 40 percent of MEA’s membership could leave if given the choice, because “some don't think they are getting real value from the $90 per month in union dues” teachers are forced to contribute. This isn’t idle speculation. In Wisconsin, the teacher’s union had to lay off 40 percent of its staff after Governor Scott Walker (R) ended automatic payroll deductions of union dues.

Why would rank-and-file union membership consider paying dues a poor value? Maybe because the MEA has increasingly been more focused on partisan politics than on education. It was one of the chief drivers of recall efforts against Republican lawmakers this past summer. Out of roughly 20 recall efforts, including the Governor and Richardville, the union only managed to gather enough signatures for a recall of the House Education Committee Chairman—after spending a quarter of a million dollars on the signature effort.

A reduction of the MEA’s power would be good news for parents and children. The union has been opposed to reforms that increase choice and accountability. On its website, the union voices its oppositions to one bill because it “allow[s] districts to hire/place teachers with demonstrated effectiveness and qualifications” and because “experience [longevity] will not be a factor if a district is reducing its force. Individual performance will instead be the major factor in staffing decisions.”

Richardville and other Michigan lawmakers who are trying to curb teachers unions’ privileges will face stiff opposition. If they are successful, Michigan could see an education system that puts teacher performance, parental choice, and children’s welfare ahead of union political agendas and forced dues.


Voucher Program in Colorado Would Advance Liberty

In March 2011, the school board in Douglas County, Colo., voted 7-0 to implement a school voucher program. It was designed to provide concerned parents with 75 percent of the education money provided by the state for their children if the parents preferred to send their children to the private school of their choice.

The other 25 percent of the state funds would remain with the government schools even though the student for whom the funds were intended was not in attendance.

Structured this way, the voucher plan seemed like a win-win for both parties – the parents would be empowered to send their children to the school of their choice, and the government schools would still get paid by the state, even in cases where they didn’t have to teach.

But Americans United for Separation of Church and State found something it didn’t like: many took their children out of a government school and placed them in a Christian one. This, in the minds of AU, was no different than imposing special taxes for the targeted support of religion.

Writing for AU, Karen B. Ringen suggests that 21st century school choice programs are no different than 18th century special “assessments” for the particular support of religion, assessments which James Madison opposed. This comparison does not bear much analysis. Neither the state of Colorado nor Douglas County have imposed a tax designed to support one, many, or all religions. Instead, the governments collect income, property, and other taxes to cover the expense of educating Colorado’s school children, among other things. Douglas County then empowers parents to make choices about the education of their children. They can leave their children in the public schools or they can choose a private school that better serves the needs of their children. Parents may choose secular or religious private schools. This is a far cry from the special religious tax that Madison rightly decried.

Douglas County’s school choice program advances rather than undermines religious liberty. Government maximizes religious liberty when it minimizes its influence on religious choices. When parents decide how their children will be educated, they make an inescapably “religious” choice. Education, whether it is labeled “religious” or “secular,” rests upon foundational presuppositions – about the nature of reality, about right and wrong, and about how humans acquire knowledge. These foundations are, broadly speaking, “religious.” A “secular” public school is not neutral about these foundations, even though its presuppositions might be hidden. When the government pressures families to choose secular public education, it undermines their religious freedom. Empowering parents to make real choices about educating their children augments religious freedom. AU may not like the choices some parents are making, but it cannot plausibly contend that facilitating choice minimizes freedom.

In this sense, Madison is very much on the side of Douglas County in this dispute. In Madison’s own words: “The Religion then of every man must be left to the conviction and conscience of every man; and it is the right of every man to exercise it as these may dictate.”

Douglas County is not forcing AU to support a religion with which it disagrees. Instead, it is enabling parents to educate their children in a manner consistent with their own religious convictions.


No comments: