Wednesday, August 5, 2009

As silly as Australia?

Blocking school results a pointless exercise

Governance & Service Provision and Education | | Julie Novak
ABC Unleashed 3rd July, 2009

Last week the Government introduced an education amendment bill ensuring that NSW was in line with other states when it comes to reporting school academic performance.

All parties were in furious agreement that the publication of league tables ranking schools from top to bottom using raw test results could not be supported.

This position was consistent with a national protocol signed by the federal and state governments allowing each school to be compared with 'like' schools with similar student characteristics.

Despite this, the Greens forced a law that fines individuals and media outlets from publishing school rankings in the print media. The Greens upper house member John Kaye said 'this amendment calls the bluff of state and federal education ministers'.

It is most ironic that the Greens would force such a league table ban on the very same day that federal Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner introduced an online plan for more open government.

A Federal Government taskforce has been established to find ways to turn the internet from a broadcast medium to a platform for collaboration. According to Mr Tanner, governments 'have to accept that in this new world, we won't always know how information will be used. Citizens will assemble and combine it, or mash it, in ways that we can't fully appreciate'.

Indeed, it is highly doubtful if the Greens' amendment will prevent people with an interest in school performance from taking the officially published data and creating their own school rankings.

Individuals and media outlets in other states could create their own school league tables, and there would be nothing stopping them from doing so. The internet respects no borders, so parents in NSW can simply read school rankings published online by bodies outside of the state.

As the Labor member Penny Sharpe said during the parliamentary debate, the 'amendment is well intentioned and utterly futile'.

The legislative stunt by the Greens would have gotten nowhere had it not been for the Coalition supporting them.

This is arguably the most curious facet of this whole affair, as the Coalition when in government elsewhere has had a proud record of promoting an informed choice on schooling for parents.

In particular, the former Howard Coalition government published outcomes of national literacy and numeracy tests for government and non-government schools in aggregate.

This was a significant move compared to the 'information darkness' that existed previously, giving parents, schools and policymakers a guide as to where improvements could be made in education.

Even some state Labor governments have moved to fill the gap in public performance information on schools. For example, Queensland and Tasmania publish student literacy and numeracy test score results for individual schools.

While media outlets have used these to rank schools, it is an insult to the intelligence of parents to suggest that they cannot make their own judgements about published school results. After all, most parents are acutely aware that students come from various socioeconomic backgrounds, and come to school with a varied aptitude and ability mix.

Recent events in the NSW parliament show that some politicians still think that controlling the kinds of information that the taxpaying community should get, about the services they fund, is a worthy objective.

However, this ignores the fact that in a modern, information-rich world it is becoming increasingly pointless, and even counterproductive, to try.

No comments:

Post a Comment