SOS jump the shark

johnboy 9 October 2006 27

As usual in ACT politics the wicked and the witless are dominating both sides of the argument over school closures leaving sanity sitting hapless by the wayside.

On the one hand the 20-20 program of school closures is manifestly incompetent, the consultation process is a sham, and the implementation is astonishingly botched.

For all that there are many schools that certainly should close.

On the other hand the “Save Our Schools” campaign is being utterly unscrupulous and at times downright dishonest obviously having decided that their ends justify their means (they never do).

Case in point a story on the ABC this morning in which SOS rolls out american research showing that small class sizes produce better outcomes for poor students (or “students with a low socio-economic status” if you’re a wanker).

They then make the inference that small schools provide small classes when in fact the reverse is often true.

UPDATED: It appears it is the ABC that has brought class sizes into the argument and the SOS media release only considers school sizes. However I remain dubious as to the value of US research as they tend to have independent school boards and their median school sizes are MUCH bigger than anything we’re used to.


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nyssa76 nyssa76 9:07 am 11 Oct 06

Furthermore, the Middle School document (ACT) relied on US/UK research to determine that smaller classes and teachers teaching more than 1 subject were imperative to learning.

Class sizes can reflect school sizes, however, with creative accounting, you can have large classes in large schools and small ones in small schools etc.

Are we going to survey every student in the ACT to determine whether or not they need or want class sizes of 20, 25, 32? Their parents and teachers will be able to assist in determining whether a small class or a large one would assist the student’s learning.

However, we’ve been kneecapped and what we want doesn’t mean shite.

By denying those students, who need smaller classes/school, we are effectively forcing them to fail. They will get lost in a class of 32. I’ve seen it many a time. I’ve taught Learning Assistance and students who are in the class “blossom” with more 1-1 attention.

I truly hate 2020 and it’s puppet, Mr. Barr.

miz miz 9:49 pm 10 Oct 06

Thanks Nyssa 🙂

Kayellar Kayellar 12:10 am 10 Oct 06

I suppose the fact that I am not a parent probably does not help make me appreciate the arguments put forward by SOS. I have to say though, looking from the outside in, I think that this whole incident has shown that as a community of ‘educated’ adults, we really know how to act like a bunch of spoiled 3 year olds!

I think that both sides of this argument have shown little regard for the other side, and the more each side refuses to listen the more the other side wants to make sure that they are heard until this turns into a screaming match.

Having said that, I believe that SOS is not doing many favours for itself with its roughshod approach at throwing out erroneous statistics at a rate that would baffle the ABS and might eventually hit the mark some time. The Government on the other hand is not winning much support because of the lack of solid information that it is providing to a group of people who are about to go into early on-set menopause because of the stress of having to work out how to commute their child to the dilapidated school in the next suburb, even though they were driving them down the block to the dilapidated school they are currently going to.

I am curious of the rationale behind the Governments approach to this situation. I appreciate that they have a majority ATM, but it is not that long before we have another election, and because from what I understand the closures are being dragged out over 2 years, people will still remember this when they vote because the SOS signs will be banged onto the side of the voting booths!

I have to say that I have not been following this terribly keenly, because as I do not have kids, and god willing, never will, I do not fully appreciate the pressures of schooling are upon a family. I would like to think that the Government is at the moment putting ideas out into the open for debate (and let’s face it, there’s more dignity and profoundness in the hoky-poky) and keeping its options open.

Perhaps… and this is just throwing out an idea into the fire… just maybe… the Government might actually know what they hell it is talking about and that they are sitting back and enjoying watching people make absolute dicks of themselves trying to impress with their statistics and the Opposition falling over itself and Deb Fosky to get a sound bite about the schools closing.

But then maybe the Government might also be using this as a perfect opportunity to get voted out, by infuriating enough people with some over the top and unlikely ideas, they are single handedly trying to rid themselves of the burden of balancing a budget that is in disrepair and always having to be bloody accountable and scrutinised, as well as simultaneously building communities with the bonding over this ‘debate’…. can we see the logic… are you keeping up?

On the other hand, they could just be trying to get rid of some pesky schools… because there is nothing more satisfying than slightly irritating someone to the point where, if they were to go off at you, they would look a fool, because its not really that big an issue in the greater scheme of things. I get concerned when I hear some of the arguments about particular ‘special classes’ being run out of particular schools. Now I have a *bit* of involvement in the schools (at the highschool and College levels, particularly with people involved with these programmes) and from what I understand, some if not many of these programmes exist in multiple schools. And even if they don’t, maybe… wait for this… the class might be able to move WITH the students!!! I have not actually heard anyone on either side suggest something as bloody obvious as that.

And by the way, having spent a serious amount of time in one of the particular institutions looking at being closed, it couldn’t happen sooner. It is miserable, impractical and you can see where efforts have been made to fix it up, but because it way have been perfect 50 years ago, does not mean it is crash hot now. It would probably… and I am not an expert on this, so don’t quote me… be cheaper to turn the buildings into facilities for Community organisations (or similar) than to refurb into a decent school. But then, it would make even more sense to sell the entire thing, demolish it, and build something new… more apartments, a sporting facility, offices, or worse yet… a new school…

*phew*

Well, I think I have had that on my chest just a little too long… I know I have not solved any problems, or even added anything worthwhile to the debate, but I really feel I need to have said that. I know that I am but a mere pleb, but they are my thoughts, and just a (in)valid as the diatribe that has been laid before this.

Special G Special G 11:35 pm 09 Oct 06

Its the whole whiteboard thing again. No one can justify how they came to the numbers or schools to close, let alone the accounting used.

nyssa76 nyssa76 11:11 pm 09 Oct 06

doesn’t reach

Oops!

nyssa76 nyssa76 11:10 pm 09 Oct 06

Kindy to Yr 1/2 can have no more than 25.

Learning assistance classes (in high school) can have no more than 16.

Another teacher would be needed, however, it can be abused and underutilised.

I once taught a class that had 1 student for 4 weeks until more came into it (ESL class). The largest the class ever got was 10. Even though there was another class on the same line with only 8, they started a new one.

Some practical classes can have as little as 8 students, and the class is still run, even though it does reach the minimum (for a practical class) which is 15.

miz miz 10:52 pm 09 Oct 06

Nyssa, does the current policy of set class-sizes, eg no more than (I think it’s) 18? kids per kindy class, take precedence over the points thing or interract somehow?

nyssa76 nyssa76 10:30 pm 09 Oct 06

less than 20….

Oops!

nyssa76 nyssa76 10:29 pm 09 Oct 06

Large schools can have large classes. I had 32 (the maximum) in a large Govt school last year. It was one of three that I had 32 in.

Teachers are allocated on the number of students in the school, hence the biannual census (Feb and July).

For every 15 students you get a teacher. However, the “points” for that teacher can go somewhere else. So in a small school of 55, you could have 2 classes of 27 + 28 with two teachers and not three.

Larger schools = more choice. However, it doesn’t dictate classes of

miz miz 10:16 pm 09 Oct 06

In light of this article for context, http://canberra.yourguide.com.au/ I would like to point out that half the proposed school closures are in Tuggeranong. Shame Stanhope, shame. The convergent inequities in these policies are breathtaking, and the govt’s presumptions infuriating.

To think he has the hide to assume he is doing us all a favour! Talk about knowing the price of everything and the value of nothing.

Aidan thanks for your clear and sensible posts. I am just so furious/upset about the whole school closures issue it is really hard to stay dry-eyed and rational. I will never, ever forgive this mob if they close my kids’ school.

miz miz 7:49 pm 09 Oct 06

Link here sorry

miz miz 7:47 pm 09 Oct 06

The Govt spin has huge inconsistencies – look at this from their own website. Please compare Gilmore, Gowrie, Chisholm and Fadden Primaries on a cost-per-student basis. So why is Gilmore (with 270 students) he one that is having closure foisted upon it? It is an ideal size. The point of the US data is that any perceived economies of scale in a bigger school are illusory as the real costs are social.

aidan aidan 4:58 pm 09 Oct 06

GuruJ,

I’m not saying that depreciation should be ignored, but they are not even planning to save this money in the budget papers, yet they included this amount in the costs per student that were splashed all over the media.

I did some other analysis of the schools based on their Salary+SBM (Schools Based Management) costs which shows that many of the schools scheduled for closing are not expensive to run. The Govt targeted the three most expensive, based on this measure, but after that it is a crap shoot. Noone knows why they are planning to close schools because they won’t say. It is a very annoying.

My point is that the whole system should have been looked at, rather than just picking off a few smaller schools and saying “job done”.

I’d have liked them to approach schools they had concerns about and help them to increase their numbers. In the interim they could have head-sharing arrangements to reduce their salary costs. Nah … just close `em.

There have been no estimates of flow on costs to the community of these closures. Fewer kids walking to school, childhood obesity anyone? Traffic safety measures for those that can walk but now have to cross major roads. Loss of amenity to the suburb, community facilities and social cohesion.

I know that last one sounds wishy washy, but as a parent of small children in an affected suburb (Giralang) I know how devastating this will be for my family and especially my wife. Through the local school she has met heaps of local people (as have I) and we’ve started to make links in the community. Invaluable stuff I reckon.

GuruJ GuruJ 3:40 pm 09 Oct 06

aidan,

Agree with the arguments paras 1 & 2. It’s worth noting that the final list of schools being closed hasn’t been finalized, so it will be interesting to see if the Gov’t takes your arguments into account there.

Para 3: “There is nothing inherently inefficient about small schools, they just have fewer students over which to spread their fixed costs.”

This is the inherent inefficiency. Depreciation is a cost regardless of its origin. After all, depreciation is just a fancy way of saying that buildings eventually become unsuitable/unusable and need to be replaced.

Back on the education quality issue, the SOS report seems to be rather selective in its use of the research. For example, the Abbott et al report from 2002 concludes:

“Certainly, the multi-level findings of our study argue against (my emphasis) the simplistic conclusion that reducing school and/or district size will automatically improve student achievement, or be more equitable.”

In fact, several reports find that larger schools are advantageous to outcomes in affluent communities. But what is “affluent”? Where is the cut-over point?

Socioeconomic disadvantage is, by its very nature, a relative phenomenon. Poverty in the USA tends to be more extreme and so “poor” people in Australia may not experience the disadvantages cited in these reports. Without Australian studies to back up the USA research, I can’t place too much weight on these results.

aidan aidan 3:15 pm 09 Oct 06

GuruJ,

Yes and no.

The factory analogy doesn’t really apply as the Government is in the business of providing a comprehensive public education system. It cannot decide to centralise all it’s activities into one central point, it has to maintain a broad geographic spread of schools.

They have failed to acknowledge this, and have proposed to close two adjacent schools – Flynn and Mt Rogers. They plan to close Giralang Primary, leaving almost the entire suburb without the option of walking to school, and ditto for Weston Primary. If they have to reduce the number of school sites then no school should have been off limits. The criteria for closing a school should have been derived from maintaining a viable level of service for all kids.

The Government rhetoric was all about “inefficient” small schools being “subsidised” by big schools. There is nothing inherently inefficient about small schools, they just have fewer students over which to spread their fixed costs. Those fixed costs include depreciation. Yet the Department of Education is designed to run at a loss which exactly equals the cost of the depreciation of their buildings. So it isn’t clear to me that this is a cost at all, more of an accounting standard.

By focusing on the cost per student other details are lost. Like, for example, the exhorbitant cost of Gold Creek school. If Gold Creek cost the same as other schools of it’s size it would save the ACT tax payer $1.5M a year. That is about the same amount they plan to save by closing Giralang, Tharwa, Rivett and Melrose Primary Schools combined.

emd emd 3:05 pm 09 Oct 06

Getting back on the topic of quality of education (not cost), I agree with aidan that it’s quite OK to respond to US-based policy from the ACT Government with US-based research showing that they are targeting some of the wrong schools for closure.

Surely there’s a place in our public education system for mega-schools (for those that want a smorgasbord of educational programs) and small schools (for those that want a holistic, individual approach)?

GuruJ GuruJ 2:04 pm 09 Oct 06

aidan,

I just looked at your figures, and you show that costs are roughly proportional to the number of students … excluding fixed costs.

But isn’t that the whole point? That larger schools allow the fixed costs to be spread across more students, thus achieving economies of scale?

It’s like saying that it’s just as cheap to produce 10 cars as 10,000 as long as you ignore the pesky costs of building the factory in the first place.

Mr Evil Mr Evil 1:56 pm 09 Oct 06

So size is important, but not always?

ghughes ghughes 12:42 pm 09 Oct 06

The media release seems to say that poor people need small schools. Rich people need big schools.

So I guess aspirational voters (nouveau riche or CUBS) will demand large schools as a symbol of their wealth – see Dara, marist or Radford for example.

aidan aidan 11:43 am 09 Oct 06

Sorry JB, only just noticed the update to the original post.

I agree with the US research thing, except that is pretty much where the bulk of the education research seems to come from. The Govt website lists mostly US research, so it is ok to quote it against their proposal I reckon.

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