Productivity Commission ties itself in knots

I seldom follow the mainstream news. Most of the time it is discussion around a pressing issue and the analysis tends to amount to what we should be doing about it. The conclusion is usually ‘we (the Australian nation) have no money?’ So we need to rely on the charity of private investment. That plays into a framework of how wonderful it is to have private enterprise supporting our communities. At the opposite end of the debate you have leftists that argue ‘if only those corporations paid taxes’. Which when you understand the Australian government issues currency and must spend first – you see how pointless the debate is. We go round and round in circles and our education, healthcare, care services and public utilities get neglected and as a society we end up poorer for it.

An article in the AFR ‘Gonski reforms to improve teaching never implemented’ takes issue with the declining educational results of Australian students. I’ve always found the Gonski report flawed. David Gonski the chair of the paper on educational reform has no experience or qualifications in education. He is a businessman that sits on countless boards including ANZ bank, Ingeus (one of those private firms that make money by punishing the unemployed), Swiss Re (An insurance company) and multiple other firms that collect billions of dollars in unearned income. The fact the allegedly left ALP Gillard Government chose him to write a report into how to solve issues in Australian public education just shows how closely affiliated capital is with the Australian Government.

The Productivity Commission report into the Gonski reforms says

The Productivity Commission says each year, between 5 per cent and 9 per cent of students fail to pass the minimum NAPLAN reading and maths standards for their age, and that one-third of the children who have fallen behind as eight-year olds are staying behind as 15-year olds.

I work in education and I can tell you that there are many students that are required to take these standardised tests knowing they are going to fail. In a disadvantaged indigenous community I know of students that moved from a level 3 to a level 4 reading level in a year were still required to undergo a standardised test far higher than their ability!! I had a meeting with an education minister in regards to this issue (plus numerous others) and I can tell you it is nods and smiles and honestly I don’t think they could care less. I doubt they were even listening to the words coming out of my mouth.

The focus of the report is on what is wrong and why we have declining standards is thrown onto the teaching profession

“But persistent barriers, including ineffective teacher education in universities and a lack of ongoing monitoring and professional development of the existing teacher workforce, were hindering progress.”

And to some degree that is true. However, teachers are overworked, paid well below other professions (architects, engineers etc…) and have unnecessary administrative duties placed on them that they don’t have time to plan classes. Most of these administrative duties are to do with collection of data, that teachers know of their students, but it needs to satisfy some bureaucratic funding requirement. None of that tends to come into the minds of the powers that be at the Productivity Commission.

And yet nothing in respect to the broader social environment of students is considered. In yesterdays post I citied Eisenberg, P., & Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1938), a study on the psychological effects of unemployment. The study looked at the psychological affects on the children of unemployed adults. It found

One of the effects of unemployment on personality is shown in school work. Busemann and Bahr (13) found that in an elementary school in the poor district of Breslau the children of the unemployed fall from an average grade of 2.80 to 3.15 (1—very good, 5—failing). This bad effect is found more frequently in children of unemployed who previously had good marks than in those who had average and inferior grades. The decline sets in immediately after loss of work, and is to be explained by the lowering of the standards of living. In a better controlled study by Busemann and Harders (14), in which 473 children of unemployed parents were compared with 1,154 children of employed, it was found that there appeared without exception a decrease in the average grades of the former group.

Eisenberg, P., & Lazarsfeld, P. F. (1938). The psychological effects of unemployment. Psychological Bulletin, 35(6), 358–390.

This is where the economic orthodoxy fails us. An article from a year ago by a typical neoliberal fear monger, Shane Wright ‘Dark clouds ahead’: PC warns about budget debt and protectionism complains of PC warning against debt and deficits.

One of the federal government’s most senior independent economic advisers has warned against accepting large budget deficits and the drive for the country to become self-sufficient across key industries, saying they will leave future generations poorer.

Yet we know a deficit is merely the difference of what a government spends (which as an issuer it must do first) and what it taxes. The result is the fiscal balance. The result is meaningless without a context. On one hand you have the PC stating we need to lift educational outcomes so we can prosper in the future and on the other they demonise government spending by spreading myths of debt and deficits that mean our governments allow unemployment, which leads to children having lower educational outcomes!

Unless we are pushing for economic reform within the frameworks our governments use, we will continue to advance the interest of capital and as a society our public infrastructure degrades, our health systems can’t manage and our educational outcomes decline. This leaves us poorer as a society!

Then debate happens around education funding. Each school has a Student Resourcing Score (SRS) that should be met to ensure schools are resourced appropriately. There are loadings for disadvantage, students with special needs et cetera.

The federal government committed to funding 20% of the SRS for public schools while the states and territories provided the rest. It is reversed for private education with the feds funding 80%. No jurisdiction has met the 100% funding for public schools.

The loadings that are meant to assist in closing educational gaps between rich and poor aren’t enough to cover the labour of someone needed to assist in the classroom. So casual work is offered and employees are left in precarious situations while there isn’t the funding to deliver what students actually need in extra assistance.

The appropriation bills are written in such a way that rather than deliver funding for the required skilled labour, a hypothetical amount of money is ‘put aside’ and the funding flows to ensure it doesn’t exceed that limit. Complete and utter nonsense when you issue a currency.

When you have students with disadvantage that need extra assistance and you have underemployed workers that want more work, as a society we should be able to ensure we lift hours for those workers to help the students that need help. That is logic.

But instead of that frame taking the forefront of public debate we get nonsense that the federal government should lift its funding commitment 5% (to 25%) of the SRS.

Well, why wouldn’t the federal government fund a 100% of the SRS? Why not write appropriation bills that ensures funding flows to meet the needs of the required labour and other resources needed? Why limit ourselves by a hypothetical amount of money? We face serious challenges in terms of a labour force that is exiting education, a lack of skills development given to those that need to assist in the classroom, and chromic underemployment issues.

Unless we seriously begin looking at the real resources needed to rectify the issues, that is things like teacher:student ratios, the additional support for disadvantaged and students with special needs, looking at the broader social environments students live and ending the dysfunction and poverty that unemployment brings, our public education system will continue its decline.

We need to be designing the funding structures to co-ordinate the resources we need instead of placing limits on amounts of dollars to spend. Otherwise we will go round and round in circles and achieve nothing.

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