A prevailing myth of Australia’s left-leaning education establishment is that
increased funding of government schools leads to improved educational outcomes.
Analysis of the OECD’s Program for International
Student Assessment international tests across the past 14 years, however, shows
increasing expenditure is not the solution.
The OECD’s Education at a Glance 2000, analysing
results for 25 countries, including high-performing nations such as Japan and
South Korea, concludes: “There seems to be neither a strong nor a consistent
relationship between the volume of resources invested nationally and student
Education at a Glance 2001 adds: “It would be
misleading to equate lower unit expenditure generally with lower quality
The OECD’s PISA in Focus 2013 draws the same
conclusion: “The countries that are the strongest performers in PISA are not
the wealthiest, nor do they allocate more money to education.”
In general, English-speaking nations such as the US,
Australia, and England, spend more per student as a percentage of GDP than
high-performing Asian education systems without even improving, let alone
attaining the same results. A 2007 study of the best performing school systems
by McKinsey & Company said: “Despite substantial increases in spending and
many well-intentioned reform efforts, performance in a large number of school
systems has barely improved in decades.”
In the US, despite a 73 per cent increase in public
spending from 1980 to 2005, academic outcomes, with minor exceptions,
Opposition assistant Treasury spokesman Andrew
Leigh, as an academic at the Australian National University, said Australia’s
education system faced the same conundrum as the US and many other OECD
In Long Run Trends in School Productivity: Evidence
from Australia, Leigh and Chris Ryan, analysing test results from 1964 to 2003,
observed minimal improvement and concluded: “Real per child school expenditure
increased substantially over this period, implying a fall in school
Even after adjusting for students’ home background,
Australia’s Catholic schools achieve stronger results than government schools
with less government investment.
Research also shows little, if any, relationship
between money invested and performance in literacy and numeracy tests.
The Australian Education Union’s mantra is fewer
students, smaller classes. It’s true that with classes as small as eight to 15
there are some improvements in educational outcomes, but such small classes are
financially unsustainable. Worse, OECD studies show when expenditure is focused
on reducing class sizes more effective measures, such as better rewarding
teachers and ensuring that they are properly resourced and supported, are
Education Indicators in Focus, November 2012,
argues: “Reducing class size is not, on its own a sufficient policy lever to
improve the performance of education systems, and is a less efficient measure
than increasing the quality of teaching.” Stronger performing education systems
focus expenditure on better pay and conditions to attract and retain
Many high-performing Asian education systems also
invest in giving teachers the time and resources to mentor each other and to be
involved in school-based curriculum and professional development.
As the OECD’s Marilyn Achiron put it: “The countries
that perform well in PISA tend to attract the best students into the teaching
profession by offering them higher salaries and greater professional status.
They also tend to prioritise investment in teachers over smaller classes”.
Kevin Donnelly is a
senior research fellow at Australian Catholic University and director of
Education Standards Institute.
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