Saturday, September 3, 2011

choice vs equity in education

The problems we must deal with were created decades ago when we somehow ended up with a public system open to all - and a subsidised private system open to some, if they could pay. It's hard to think of a better way to create a social and academic apartheid framework of schools.
The schools that are partly resourced by fees inevitably harvest an advantaged enrolment; the schools that are free and open to all become socially and academically residualised. What we've always guessed but now know is that this system, almost regardless of teacher quality, makes it much harder to lift the achievement of kids at the bottom of the school league.
For decades we have been in denial, wrapping this arrangement up in endless and often shifting rationalisations; it's variously been about choice, competition, quality, entitlement. Choice is considered most important, despite the fact that choice of schools is really only available to those with money.
For this very reason we find that choice sits at one end of a continuum - but down the other end lies equity. This dilemma is now very important because improving equity of student outcomes can only happen if we challenge the right of some to unrestricted choice.

Loving this article about public vs private education. What do you think? Is it okay sacrifice choice for some in order to achieve equity for all?


  1. Reducing choice may (or may not be) a precondition for equality but the problem can become that those who like a particular lack of choice become 'more equal than others'. In the public system, anti-theists have greater rights than those with other views - just look at how vocal the anti-theists get about alternative views of origins even being mentioned, never mind taught, in a public school setting.

  2. I've been thinking about why class keeps reasserting itself, how economically stultifying it is, and where energy to break it down comes from. Private schools are probably only elite on a per suburb basis. Rich suburb state schools would be better than outer suburb private schools and religious schools.
    I think the last big equalization was WWII. War gives a lot of contexts in which class is shown to be a big lie (a grand illusion). When your toff officer is clueless and your working class sergeant is a hero, and both of them have been blown to bits, you go back to civilian life with a much more accurate sense of your potential and place in society, the value of your choices etc. Andrew C
    I guess I'm going to say that you can't solve this inequality thing simply in schools as currently constituted, however much you might want to. Somehow you need to get people through the bloody turmoil of real crisis in a way that doesn't destroy them, that allows them some chance at overcoming deficits in their first six years. It used to be done in initiation.

  3. Also - Great article, real problem that something should be done about. I assume you've seen these (most are many years old now):
    And the piece de-resistance from Shane Moloney:

  4. Love his opinion. Wish it was more easily translated into practical things that could be done though....

  5. Hi Simone, I found my way here via Karen's blog.

    I agree with the article and have found it to be a huge problem in the last country town I lived in in WA. The school is from kindergarten to Year 10 yet a lot of the wealthier farming families choose to send their kids to elite boarding schools in Perth in either Year 7 or 8. This has led to a declining school population and because of this the school has trouble attracting teachers etc. It's a vicious cycle. The kids that are left at the school have no choice but to be there as their parents cannot afford boarding school and the teachers are left with students with behavioural problems (according to a friend of mine who teaches at the school).

    There's also a lot of fearmongering in that community. When I moved there I was told by other women that the school was bad and that I should send my kids to boarding school (I don't even have kids yet). I'm wondering how much this impacts the decision to send kids away - new people are told this so they don't even bother trying the school, they just believe the gossip. My work colleague told me she was sending her girls away because they'd be no-one left - all her friends and neighbours were sending their kids away so she felt she had no choice but to do the same.

    What's the solution? Well, I may be an idealist (since I'm not a parent), but I'd like to think that I'd at least TRY the local public school and help it make it a better place for those who have no choice but to go there and see what happens from there. I did all my primary and secondary education in country public schools and it worked fine for me.

  6. I went to state high schools. It's a hard road for someone who wants to do well at school.

    My oldest daughter is currently attending a private high school.

  7. I read the articles that Absurd Project O linked and I always find it interesting in these debates about funding that the difference in federal funding is shown but not the enormous difference in state funding. When both state and federal funding are taken into account you can see the real picture:
    The figures are a little outdated now but give an indication that the inequity funding-wise is actually against the private student yet one could argue that private school parents are taxpayers too...