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A new idea for schools that doesn’t involve more money? Outrageous!

1 February 2017

12:13 PM

1 February 2017

12:13 PM

An education policy that doesn’t include lavishing more money on schools? Outrageous!

That’s been the common response to the federal government’s plan to introduce a test in Year 1 to assess literacy, numeracy, and phonics.

There is a lot of evidence that a phonics check, in particular, will be an effective measure to assess the efficacy of phonics teaching in Australia and identify at an early stage children who are struggling with basic reading skills — as my colleague Jennifer Buckingham and other experts have shown.

But not everyone is happy. Within a few hours of the announcement, the proposed new assessment was dismissed by a teachers’ union and one state premier, because they claim that what’s really needed is more government funding.

Translation: how dare someone come up with a new education idea that doesn’t involve more money?

Unfortunately, the instinctive response these days to any new education policy is to quickly change the subject and plead for more money instead (it’s the equivalent of “nothing to see here, move along” in education debates).

Improving education is much more complicated than simply throwing more money at it. There is no direct relationship between education funding increases and better outcomes for students, according to the Australian Productivity Commission, the OECD, and many others.

Despite substantial increases in education funding by both federal and state governments over the past decade, Australia’s schools are not improving in global rankings and if anything are getting worse, as shown by the results of two different international standardised tests in 2016.

Clearly, regardless of the level of funding, there are things we could be doing better in our schools.

That’s why evidence-based measures, like an early years phonics assessment, are sensible. It’s absurd that some people would rather just spend billions of more taxpayer dollars instead.

Blaise Joseph is an Education Policy Analyst at The Centre for Independent Studies.

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