Monday 19 January 2009

Be upfront, you slimey toads

The Fairfax press proved once again today that it is a brazen front for unions, socialists and other rent-seeking, power hungry doom-mongers from the left. It did that by publishing a story titled Study condemns ramshackle schools.

The Australian Education Union put out a press release about a report that it commissioned, and the SMH printed it without batting an eyelid. The story has not been fact checked. There are no comments from any other interested parties that might have a different opinion to what the report contains. There is no attempt to see whether the report has been peer reviewed before publication. It’s just blatant lefty propaganda from a bunch of private school hating fellow travellers.

Let me have a go at it, paragraph by paragraph.

AUSTRALIAN public schools have been allocated far less to upgrade buildings and classrooms than schools in the United States and Britain, renewing concerns that too many students are studying in dilapidated conditions.

Having read the report from cover to cover, I can find nothing that supports this paragraph. The report throws dollar figures from the US around (for instance, that “in the last six years, of the $124 billion spent on school construction…), but no numbers for the UK. No tables are presented to show how we are spending much less than the US and the UK. It is a statement plucked out of thin air.

Nothing is said about how the US figure of $124 billion is derived. Every country funds education differently. In the US, a lot of the state system is funded through property taxes at the local or municipal level. Each municipality decides how much money to raise and spend on its public schools. The differences across the country are huge.

The US Federal government has recently thrown a lot of money at the school system, but without explaining where the money has been spent, for all we know a big chunk of that $124 billion might have been spent on buildings in private schools (I mention that because the main thrust of this AEU report is that private schools spend a lot more on buildings in Australia than state schools, and that this is unfair and horrible and so on).

We are not told the exchange rate at which that $124 billion is converted to Australian dollars.

In short, the first paragraph is baseless. No evidence is presented to show we spend less. None.

As schools prepare to reopen, research has found Australian governments are spending about $1000 less for every student on school infrastructure than the US and Britain, a funding gap of $11.2 billion since 2002.

One thing I have read is that the yanks have thrown so much money at school buildings, they now have a lot of schools standing empty. There was so much money sloshing around, a lot of it was spent incredibly badly. Schools were built where there are no kids, so they’ve been mothballed. Throwing a lot of money at something will not necessarily yield good results. We used to call that sort of spending "pork" and/or "waste".

In the UK, schools are being built through a PFI scheme (Private Finance Initiative), and there are reports coming out that the UK government has had its face ripped off by financial sharks. Again, simply spending a lot of money on a school is not necessarily going to provide a good result for the taxpayer. You can easily buy a Kia for the price of a Rolls Royce if you are an idiot.

The great unspoken bogeyman here is the fact that enrolments in the state system are shrinking, and have been for decades. We don’t necessarily need to build more buildings at state schools to cater for more students, because the system has fewer and fewer students every year.

There may in fact be a case for demolishing unnecessary buildings – the NSW state government has certainly tried to close state schools in the last decade that didn’t have enough pupils. The AEU thinks that if a tonne of money is thrown at state school bricks and mortar, this decline will be reversed. Flash new buildings are seen as the holy grail of rebuilding state school enrolments.

Sorry to disappoint you guys, but the answer is software rather than hardware. Lefty, state school ideologues think that parents send their children to private schools because they have ivy covered buildings.


The hardware is attractive, but it is secondary to the software.

The software is what they teach and how they teach it. The software is the teachers, their principles and their morals.

25 years ago, I went to a very expensive private school. Today, my eldest goes to a state schools that costs us about $1,000 a year in fees and so on. The teaching facilities at the state school today crap all over those that my private school had 25 years ago. But if I was given a choice, I would send him to that private school of 25 years ago, because he would certainly get a better education than he’s getting now. Call me an old fossil if you like, but I'm not impressed with the new age shit which passes for educational techniques in the state school system.

As for $1,000 gap in spending per student between Australian and the US/UK, consider a study done back in 2005 into school costs.

The study looked at government schools and came up with all sorts of numbers, but this one stood out at me:

The average cost per student in a state high school is $8,068 – that includes teacher salaries, admin costs, operating expenses and depreciation.

The least cost state high schools ran at $7,006 per student – a gap of $1,062. The biggest areas of difference were admin and support salaries (least cost were 45% below the average) and operating expenses (54% below average).

In state primary schools, the least cost ran at $4,982 per student, with the averate at $6,050 – a gap of over $1,000.

Hmm. Maybe, just maybe, we have put different priorities on our schools - we prefer teachers over buildings. We prefer software over hardware. A big chunk of that $1,000 difference can be explained by "children at risk", which is a PC term for what we used to call retards. Yes, that's an offensive term, and shouldn't be used, but Junior comes home and complains about how the retards in his class are disruptive, the retards are screwing up his education and the retards make trouble on the bus, so I think it is only fair to him to use his exact description. He hates the retards. (His friends also like to describe things they don't like as "gay").

He's completely unfair of course, but that is the nature of teenagers. From my reading of various reports, the extra costs come from dealing with Aboriginal kids, kids from homes where English is a second language, and slum kids (oops, there I go again). Sorry, lower socio-economic groups.

You may like to consider for a minute this conundrum. Our state school system is creaking because it costs a lot more to teach kids who don't speak English. Resources are being diverted to give them extra teachers, additional programs and the like. These kids are from migrant and refugee families. If we think our state school systems are going down the gurgler, why are we continuing to load them up with refugee kids who have all sorts of psychological problems, have missed years of schooling, don't speaka the lingo and so on? It's the same with our carbon emmissions. You want to stabilise CO2 output? Stabilise the population.

I have nothing against migrants. The mother of my children is the child of migrants who came here unable to habla the lingo. If it costs more to teach them, and Australians think it is a good idea to take in more migrants, then so be it. But it shits me to tears when the likes of the AEU ponce around saying, "it's so unfair, the private system has all these advantages" when that is often not the case. The private system is not unfairly advantaged. The state system is not funded to service the needs of refugees, migrants and so on. Either admit that, and give state schools a wedge of cash, or cut off the flow of refugees. But don't dick around saying the problem is that the private schools get more money because parents are prepared to pay high school fees.

Rant over (for the moment).

A report by Adam Rorris, an education economist who has worked for the United Nations, says investment in public school buildings is about one-third of the amount spent by private schools.

I tried looking this guy up, and couldn’t find exactly what it was that he did for the UN.

As for investment in state school buildings being 1/3 of that at private schools, I can believe that figure. However, you have to ask why this is the case, and whether boosting spending to the same level as private schools is necessarily a good thing.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is not the way to run education policy. Should I renovate my house to take it from 3 bedrooms to 5, and from one bathroom to three, and to add a home cinema because my neighbour has just done that? Do I need any of those extra toilets and a home cinema? God no. I need that like a hole in the head. So what is the point of just doing something because someone else is doing it too? My mum used to say to me, "Would you jump off a cliff if all the other kids were doing it?"

If you ask me, a lot of private schools have massively overbuilt. My old school has spent millions on fancy new buildings, and from what I have seen, I am not sure that most of them added much value.

Private schools seem to be locked in an arms race with each other, with the worry being that if a school falls behind, it will fail to attract students. Headmasters also get a hard-on for new buildings, particularly if one will be named after them once they retire.

The alumni association that I belong to is ruthlessly efficient at raising cash from old boys. I won’t give them a cent, as I think that what they’ve got now is good enough. The old science block was demolished and a new one built, but I can’t see how chemistry has changed so much in the last 20 years that new classrooms are required to teach it. The old rule still applies that if you add water to pure sulphuric acid, it will blow up in your face.

If public schools need new buildings, then the amount of money needed to build them should be based on actual requirements, not some arbitrary need to keep up with the private system. This report reeks of class envy and the kind of stupidity that leads public servants to put up buildings that are not required, just because they have money in the budget to do so.

"We need additional funding to modernise our school buildings and ensure they are fit for 21st century learning," the president of the Australian Education Union, Angelo Gavrielatos, said.

I’d love someone to explain to me how “21st century learning” differs from the “20th century learning” that I went through.

The figures show that in 2002 US schools received $1892 per student, British schools received $1013 a student, and Australian public schools received $453. In 2006 British schools received $1791 a student. The figure for US schools was $1525 and for Australia it was $659.

None of these figures appears in the report. I searched on all of them. Angelo is pulling numbers out of his bum. They don’t appear in the press release either. I guess the journalist rang the AEU, and someone fed them some unsubstantiated numbers that sounded good.

For all we know, the US and UK figures might have been calculated by including both the state and private funding numbers from those countries, thus skewing them upwards. Without access to the raw numbers, who can tell where these figures came from.

"The two countries that are absolutely loved by Australian policymakers are the US and the UK … yet Australian public schools have been about $1000 behind for the last five years for which we've had … consistent data," Mr Rorris said.

These two countries are currently mired in utter financial crisis. According to Obama, the US is in a depression, and the UK is not far behind. They are sinking under a mammoth load of government debt, and enormous budget deficits. The US and UK governments have both been spending like drunken sailors for a decade, and the UK is seriously approaching bankruptcy. The US financial mess is like nothing we have seen in our lifetime.

They’ve brought that mess upon themselves by wasting money on things they didn’t need, year after year. That includes throwing insane amounts of money at schools, erecting buildings when they didn't have the kids to fill them.

And the author of this report, and the AEU, and Fairfax apparently, think this is a good idea? I say thank goodness for 10 years of prudent financial management. I say thank goodness that we didn’t spend a decade throwing pork at every school project that looked like it might have generated a vote.

I will now turn my attention to the press release, which you can find here.

The independent report by Education Economist, Adam Rorris

Interestingly enough, Adam Rorris does not list his educational qualifications anywhere in the report. Authors usually like to tell you where they got their degree, and what type of degree they got – a bachelors degree, honours, a masters or a PhD. Adam lists nothing. The only mention I could find of him being connected with a university is an old document from the University of Sydney in 1985, where he is intriguingly listed as one of two “Co-ethnic affairs officers” on what I presume was the Students’ Representative Council.

As for “independent”, Adam is listed as a fellow of the Centre for Policy Development.

The Centre for Policy Development is a leftist think tank. If you don’t believe me, check out the Board of Directors, the staff and the fellows. The information in italics is lifted directly from the centre's website, and is just a small portion of the people who work there:

They are a collection of union hacks:

  • Martin Foley is a former senior adviser in the Victorian Government and former Secretary of the Victorian Branch of the Australian Services Union,
  • Stephen Jones is the National Secretary of the Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), taking up a three year term from 1st January 2006. Stephen has worked in the union movement for 15 years including twelve years with the CPSU and 2 years at the ACTU) ,

Labor-appointee public servants and Labor policy advisors:

  • John Menadue was Private Secretary to Gough Whitlam from 1960 to 1967


  • Tony Douglas is a director of media and polling group Essential Media Communications, which specializes in campaigns on public education, the environment, workers rights and other public issues. Prior to EMC, Tony was a broadcast journalist, designing and producing Australia’s first national environment radio program..)

Social justice freaks and environmentalists and Greens shills:

  • Kate Walsh currently works with a range of non-profit social justice and environmental organisations as a consultant specialising in strategic communications, campaign development, facilitation and organisational sustainability. Most recently she was the Campaign Coordinator at GetUp! during the 2007 Federal Election and prior to that Director of the Mittagong Forum. Between 2001 and 2005 she was a Director of AID/WATCH and has also worked for the NSW and Australian Greens

This is not an "independent" think tank. The AEU is not a neutral group either - I read somewhere in all this that they described themselves as one of the key groups that worked to bring down the Howard government.

NewMatilda wrote about the launch of the Centre for Policy Development in 2007.

The Centre took over what used to be the New Matilda’s Policy Portal. If you are wondering what sort of things New Matilda publishes, look no further than 9 Jan 2009 when they published a piece by our favourite tool, Antony Lowenstein.

Plus our other favourite tool, Irfan Yusuf.

So, what do you think of the SMH after all that?

Funnily enough, the Silly published an article in 2006 that said:

"Some groups involved in public debate may not be quite what they seem"

The article of course only attacked right wing groups like the Institute of Public Affairs, and the SMH usually puts a rider on anything to do with the IPA by labelling it "right wing" right off the bat.

1 comment:

1735099 said...

I've been working since I was fifteen years old. During that time I've probably paid a six figure amount in tax.
I've never begrudged a cent of that if it has been spent on the public education system.
What I do begrudge is my tax going to wealthy private schools that refuse to enroll kids with special needs, even when their parents have the money to pay the fees.
Let's get the basic stuff right first - access being the most basic issue of all - before we rail about how the media treats education.
The MSM continues to ignore this most fundamental of issues.