The inequity of selective schooling
Russell Degnan

"My question without notice today is directed to the Leader of the Government in his capacity as Minister for Education. I refer the minister to the government's decision to establish two new select-entry schools, one in North Melbourne and the other in Melbourne's east. I ask the minister: why is this Labor government promoting an enhanced, publicly funded education for a select few?"
- Hon Peter Hall (Eastern Victoria) . Legislative Council 17th July 2007

While it isn't true to say I hadn't heard of the proposal for more selective schools before chancing across it in Hansard last week, it is true to say I have hardly heard a word on the implications of opening new selective schools in and around Melbourne. In the context of a local media willing to print idiotic rants on private education, the lack of comment is perplexing and sad.

Because selective entry schools are a terrible idea. They capture all the socially regressive aspects of private schools with few of the benefits. Even more sadly, they are being implemented by a Labor party that should be socially aware, and pragmatic, instead of actively destructive.

While it may be too much to expect a politician to be anything other than facile during parliamentary question time, John Lenders, in his reply, was bordering on willfully self-deceptive in his defence of the elitist institutions he is creating. His reply was either irrelevant

"[...] but I do take exception to his comment that we are providing education for a select few. Victoria has over 800 000 students in schools [...]"

or merely very weak

"[...] there is a message coming from members of the community that they want choice within schools. They want choice between systems, and they want choice within systems. [...] About 2500 Victorians apply for entry to those schools at year 9, and the schools take about one-fifth of that number, so there is a great unmet demand from parents who are seeking select-entry school places for their students. They see and parents make these choices their child as a gifted student, and they want them to be able to study with other gifted students in the government system."

If they cared to listen I am sure the government hear a message from the community that they wanted a selected number of mansions built in the public housing sector too, but that is no justification for them. People want a lot of bad policies, particularly when they'll be the beneficiaries.

When Melbourne High and MacRobertson were founded there was some justification for providing select entry schools. Senior secondary school education was relatively rare, as were opportunities to go to university. Private schools were comparatively expensive. Subsidising talented but poor students had an important social value. But it is not 1905. Completing year 12 is not rare, and there is no compelling need to promote state school students towards a university education. If parts of the state system was not in such utter decay it would provide sufficient opportunities for talented students in every school.

But it doesn't which is why thousands flock to private schools. Which goes some way to explaining my real problem with selective entry schools. A subsidised private system is an economically sound idea, reducing the burden on the public system. The problem with a private system - bigoted opinions aside, but we all have those - is that it scoops up the talent in the form of parents and their children with high expectations, decent learning environments and an interest in improvement. This argument - while not wholly compelling - is the only worthwhile argument I've seen against an all private, voucher based system. That is, that private schools increase inter-generational and geographic inequality.

But does John Lenders care about this?

"He [Hall] should talk to the 200 families who choose, for example, to send their students to Trafalgar High School -- my old school -- which has a select-entry program. Students come from as far as Traralgon, which is 40 kilometres down the valley from Trafalgar from one way, and they come from Warragul in the other direction. They have a choice within the state education system where students in that instance attend a select-entry program at a school."

Fan-f**king-tastic for Trafalgar kids - Lenders' old school, funnily enough - and pretty fan-f**king-tastic for the kids and parents who got into it too. But what about the students still in Traralgon - my old school, funnily enough. A school with maybe a dozen students in any given year with a serious interest in academic excellence, surrounded by boundless mediocrity and apathetic semi-literates. Those dozen students are the only thing keeping Traralgon Secondary College from being a day-care centre for post-adolescent deadbeats killing time on Youth Allowance before they have to make the serious step up to bona-fide unemployment. Lose half of them, hell, lose all of them, and not only does the school lose its only intellectual beacons, it makes it that much harder for anyone of slightly more modest ambition trying to make the best of a horrible learning environment and a decade of hardly even benign neglect.

This is Labor's plan for state school education. Ripping the guts out of what's left of a decrepit failing system.

Worse, it is exceedingly likely the actual benefits will be limited anyway. It is already widely acknowledged that reasonably well off parents will gladly move house to get into the catchment area for a decent government school. It is a given, that any test of academic merit to determine future schooling opportunities - university being the most obvious example - will be worked over by an army of the best tutors and outside help money can provide.

Increasing the number of selective entry schools looks great when the statistics show a trend back towards state schools, and an increase in the average mark in that sector. But if it has come entirely from a shift from the private sector into elite state subsidised selective entry schools then you've merely shifted the cost burden back onto the state.

Peter Hall is right to criticise, even if his interest is in neglected country areas. Selective entry schools increase inequality and burden the state system with students it doesn't need to cater to. They do however make for better statistics and good photo ops. Any wonder the government likes them.

Sterner Matters 17th August, 2007 05:13:55   [#] [0 comments] 

Monday Melbourne: CLVI, July 2007
Russell Degnan

Rainbows over the T&G from QV. Taken June 2007

Melbourne Town 8th August, 2007 02:31:43   [#] [0 comments] 

Ratings - June-July 2007
Russell Degnan

Wow, so late I missed a series... not that it was a series of any note.

England v West Indies

Opening Ratings: Eng: 1174.65 WI: 832.90
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: England by an innings and 283 runs
3rd Test: England by 60 runs
4th Test: England by 7 wickets
Closing Ratings: Eng: 1174.56 WI: 833.77

I can put a precise date on the day I started to fear for West Indies cricket: 19th November 2000. It was a week before the first test of a series they'd go on to lose five nil, and they were engaged in a lead up fixture against a solid Victorian side. Victoria had ended the second day on 304/3, 137 runs ahead, but it was not the thrashing that concerned me when I went to watch the third afternoon. It was the attitude. This most illustrious cricket playing nation - not only in need of some playing time, and of some confidence and form - could barely muster itself to put up some fight. The commentary gives some sense of the abjectness of it all. The odd bad bounce being sufficient reason for the whole team to treat the game as some merry jaunt.

More than half a decade later, and you can only conclude that what might, at first, have been merely an unprofessional group of players, is now clearly the presiding culture. Having got lucky in the first test, though they batted well enough despite the rain, the second test was as embarassing a performance as any in an increasingly long list - ill-disciplined and poor in every department. The third test seems to be anomaly in this regard, as the bowling was better - particularly Darren Sammy, and an inspired Chanderpaul in the face of a big chase. But things regressed again in the fourth, Chanderpaul's runs merely hiding what would otherwise have been another significant defeat.

England then could be well pleased. A depleted bowling attack, led by Monty Panesar and the recalled Sidebottom brushed aside everyone but Chanderpaul, and to a lesser extent Dwayne Bravo, who struck a fine average for a player who never made the most of his opportunities. The English batting, on the other hand, cashed in, with nine centuries in the top seven, and only Strauss struggling for form. Sad, but it is becoming increasingly difficult not to think of the West Indies as the minnow their small population always suggested they should be.

Bangladesh v India

Opening Ratings: Ban: 599.35 Ind: 1105.52
1st Test: Drawn
2nd Test: England by an innings and 283 runs
Closing Ratings: Ban: 604.95 Ind: 1102.90

Once the rain cleared, Bangladesh did just enough to draw the first match. Despite good bowling from Mortaza and Hossain, Tendulkar and Ganguly centuries gave India a sniff if they could have bowled Bangladesh out for not many. It took a fast paced 79 from Mortaza to prevent it, having collapsed to 7/122, and the game petered out. When the opposition is only heading back to the pavilion injured or ill, a team is in terrible trouble. But to follow a mauling of 3/601 with 4/7 (all out 118) and 3/10 is to invite scorn. That Saleh, Ashraful and Mortaza blazed 179 between them is typical of why Bangladesh continue to struggle. Like the West Indies, the talent to play flashy strokes needs to be focused. India's bowling was even, the wickets spread. But then, noone pays much heed to records against Bangladesh these days.

Sri Lanka v Bangladesh

Opening Ratings: Ban: 604.95 Sri: 1095.42
1st Test: Sri Lanka by an innings and 234 runs
2nd Test: Sri Lanka by an innings and 193 runs
Closing Ratings: Ban: 597.99 Sri: 1100.60

This is the one I missed, but you could have guessed my preview: Sri Lanka at home are a tough proposition, Bangladesh are still struggling in tests. Needless to say, I'd have been right, but who would be wrong? Still, regardless of the result, I prefer to highlight the positives of Bangladeshi performances. There is little positive to say here though. First innings results are your best guide. In three (three, shock!) tests Bangladesh scored 282 runs for the loss of all 30 wickets (top score: 29). Sri Lanka scored 1528 runs for 16 wickets (2 double centuries, 5 singles, 2 fifties). Sangakarra and Jayawardene may make up a disproportionate amount of the Sri Lankan batting order but they made hay here. Likewise the bowling: Muralitharan picking up 26 wickets, and the pacemen picking up the scraps. To be fair, in their second innings Bangladesh did better each time, but after a World Cup in which they were said to be progressing quite well, the last five tests have made clear they have much much further to go.

Forthcoming Series:

England (1174.56) v India (1102.90)- 3 Tests

Easy to say the right thing half way through the series, but harder to say why. Given England's ratings advantage and their respective home and away records, India would seem to be no chance. Compounding that, their great batsmen, games against Bangladesh aside, have been struggling for some time, while England's are just coming into their own. But, there is something to be gained from last year's series against Pakistan, where the weakened English attack struggled to contain a rampant Mohammed Yousef. With Jones, Flintoff and Hoggard still injured, and Harmison formless, much is left to Monty Panesar - a dependence that could prove problematic against Indian batsmen. Conversely, Kumble remains a danger, Zaheer Khan is back and firing after a stint in county cricket, and Sreesanth continues to impress. A longer series would have been nice here, especially given the efforts of the West Indies. As it is, we'll probably be left wanting more.

Australia (1st) 1441.45
Pakistan (4th) 1102.43
South Africa (5th) 1101.32
New Zealand (7th) 1065.59
Zimbabwe (9th) 671.01

Idle Summers 5th August, 2007 04:32:11   [#] [0 comments]