Tuesday 26 August 2008

How to ruin a succesful education outcome

From the Australian this morning comes a story on the WA Libs election launch.

I notice it was held in the Octagon Lecture Theatre at UWA. That's where I used to fall asleep during Economics 100 classes, alternated with making hundreds of paper planes to throw at the lecturer. I even managed to get one to skid across the plate of the overhead projector at one point.

Education? I know all about education.

Mr Barnett said Labor had mismanaged energy, education and justice. He said his top priority if elected on September 6 would be education.

"Look at Labor's record," he said. "There are now 14,000 less students in our government school system than there were in 2001. For the first time in our state's history, our government schools system has actually declined. We will restore confidence in government education in this state - and we will start with our teachers." Mr Barnett promised to boost the Government's pay offer to teachers by $120 million, regardless of the outcome of a teachers' ballot.

He pledged $300 million for 14new schools and $50 million for school upgrades.

If you ask me, a smaller state education system is a better system. I still can't figure out why the state is as involved in education as it is. How about this for an idea - the state stops trying to compete with the private sector by hurling useless battalions of bureaucrats at schools, hamstrung by the Teachers Union and a million petty policies and rules, and instead concentrates on things like setting the curriculum (and then leaving it alone), inspecting schools for quality and funneling cash to schools (preferably via vouchers).

The worst thing that the state can do is to run around building more schools and employing more teachers, because teachers and schools only bring grief. It's like they're saying, "I want a bigger hammer to hit myself in the forehead with". Education is one of those areas where a government can never win, so it is best off divesting itself of as much of it as possible.

It seems Labor was smarter here - if the number of kids being educated falls, less teachers need to be hired by the state system, so the power of the teachers union is at least checked, if not reduced.

Personally, I'd be happy if the state was reduced to running about 10% of the schools that it does now, with the rest being run along the Swedish model. That 10% would represent the most difficult and intractible schools, which might get some focus for once in a much reduced system.

Why a government wants to employ lots of teachers is beyond me. It's like the government wanting to build cars. You want to know how effective state education is? Think British Leyland and the P76.

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