As a marketer, I love think tanks, no really, I do. I love the way they manage to take stuff that is already well known, package it up and release it as news! That’s some damn clever spin right there.
The latest is the earth-shattering information (not) from The Grattan Institute that disadvantage compounds throughout a kid’s life, no matter how much native ability they may start out with. Frankly, duh!
This has been at the centre of the warnings public education advocates like me have been attempting to ram home to policymakers, parents and anyone who will goddamn listen for – oh, I dunno — about 30 years.
When Gough Whitlam first gave recurrent funds to private schools, we warned that we would end up exactly where we have ended up. And that is with one of the most class segregated education systems in the developed world. And class segregated education systems do worse internationally.
What did we think was going to happen when we encouraged (via ever more generous subsidies) middle class parents to opt out of the public education system entirely and leave poorer kids to their fate?
When I went to a comprehensive public high school back in the 1970s, they enrolled almost every kid in the community. My peers came from the families of company directors, lawyers, plumbers, what were then called “deserted wives”, and the nearby housing commission.
We didn’t know, we didn’t care — we judged one another on our merits as teenagers. I assume the kids who topped the class (never me, by the way, despite my CEO dad) came from all sorts of backgrounds but I didn’t know then and I don’t know now. Isn’t that great?
Such schools still exist, usually in regional areas where parents have to support the local school or send their kids away, and interestingly those schools do very well. We know (no thanks to the Grattan Institute) that mixed school populations do better. Segregated school populations, particularly along socio-economic lines do worse. The schools that become the sink of disadvantage do the very worst of all.
But it is true, as The Grattan Institute reports, that just as kids do worse when surrounded by disadvantage they do better when surrounded by advantage (again, duh). So, how do we reconcile those two conflicting priorities without damaging some kids for life? Here are just a couple of ideas.
I am on the board of the Public Education Foundation and we give all sorts of scholarships to students in public schools, including to bright kids so they can get extra support, help and opportunities while remaining in their original school as role models.