The Australian headline story is Wealth key to school success. The article notes:
FAMILY and money are the most influential factors in a child’s success at school, with elite independent and government schools serving students from well-off and well-educated backgrounds dominating the list of the nation’s highest achievers.
The Weekend Australian’s analysis shows selective schools, which have an entry test to enrol students, sit at the top of the results for secondary and primary schools, with government selectives from NSW, Victoria and Western Australia dominating the secondary rankings.
Excluding academically selective schools from the analysis reveals that independent schools dominate the ranks of highest-scoring schools, with only a handful of government or Catholic schools making the grade.
The students of the best-performing government comprehensive, or non-selective, schools, also rank above average in socio-economic and educational terms.
The story is behind a paywall. But it notes something that anyone involved in the education system knows: Family background (including parental education), family income (probably because it is correlated with parental education) and family attitude matter a lot for the educational outcomes of children. Children are not equal before they arrive at their first day of school. Children from families that value education cluster in selective government schools and the more expensive private schools. And they are more successful at school.
Unfortunately the accompanying story – The evidence is in, not all children are equal – does not address this difference but focuses on money. As the Australian study doesn’t actually have any data on funding, the story goes back to the Gonski report to conclude:
In other words, some schools are not receiving the money they need to be able to educate the students in their charge.
Undoubtedly, funding for students is part of the answer. But if family background and attitudes are a source of difference in education outcomes, throwing money at schools cannot be the whole solution. And the approach of focussing just on school funding can lead to attempts to bring the high achievers ‘back to the pack’.
So – a simple prediction. Even if ‘all schooling were equal’, so that children from families that value education highly and children from families that value education less highly, received identical schooling, my prediction is that the children from families that value education would still outperform the others in terms of education achievement.
We cannot level the playing field in education through schooling and school funding anymore than we can level it for height (chop off the feet of children with tall parents), sporting ability (if your parents are athletes you are forced to not to exercise and to eat junk food) or a host of other differences. School funding is one input to our education system. But we must avoid the temptation to try to cut down our youngest and brightest ‘poppies’ in the name of some unachievable equality of outcome.