A fairly common response to Investing in Educational Success has been ‘I’d prefer the money to be spent on…(fill in the blank)…”. Fair enough. In my ideal scenario I’d rather that the money was spent differently too. Some options would include:
· Equipping schools to provide social and health services to their students and communities (schools as hubs – unsure of cost as would depend on how comprehensive).
· Reducing overly large class sizes (implementing the SSSG, costs around half the IES spend)
· Across the board pay rises for secondary teachers (we could get around 10% for the cost of the IES, enabling us to get ahead of inflation after years of real terms pay cuts)
· Or possibly a direct $520 per child annual payment to the families of the 285,000 children living in poverty (close to $150,000,000)
And so forth. But there are two problems with this response.
1. Saying you’d prefer the money be spent elsewhere isn’t the same as saying the policy is bad. Just because you choose a chocolate cake for your birthday doesn’t mean that there’s something fundamentally wrong with carrot cake. If you are allergic to carrots, or have reason to suspect the carrot cake is poisoned, that’s a different matter. More on that later.
2. It doesn’t look at what the policy is aiming to do. Let’s tease this one out.
The aim of the policy is raising student achievement. Now there are a few ways that this could be approached. One is to look at the very significant out of school factors that affect learning – this would lead to a cross-sector child poverty approach, and would be certainly a good idea. But admittedly, at $500 per year per child, this isn’t going to go very far. What the government decided on was to focus was on what happens in schools. Now, this is arguably less effective (that gap between in school and out of school effects), but on the other hand, it should be a bit easier for them to have an impact on.
So the choice was to work on the in school factors to raise achievement and equity of achievement in schools. So the question here is – what’s the best way to spend $150,000,000 per year in schools on raising student achievement? This is, hopefully, where policy makers turn to the evidence. Unfortunately the reality of ‘evidence based’ policy is that it’s almost never going to be so clear cut and incontrovertible that a single answer jumps out as the way to go. But what we do have is a clearly emerging picture that:
1. what teachers do really matters, and that different ways of teaching have different results
2. teachers can learn and improve in their practice, and there are good ways (working with peers and experts for extended periods of time) and bad, or ineffective, ways (one off whizz-bang PD sessions, being given targets and held to account with high stakes testing) to make this happen
3. school systems that foster collaboration (between teachers and schools) and mutual responsibility for students do better than those that compete
And it seems that it’s an evidence base along these lines which is informing IES. Of course there are other things which work to make a difference in schools too – there are lots of possible ways to make cakes, but these three are common elements of recipes that work.
What I haven’t seen from the ‘I’d prefer…’ crowd is any evidence that their recipe is necessarily going to make a tastier cake than this one. Decreasing class sizes in years 4 to 6, more teacher aides, 100% registered ECE teachers may all be worthwhile things to do, but they haven’t made the case for them being better ways to achieve the aim of the policy. And as for the the claim that these would cost the same – wildly wrong, and oddly enough, would entirely benefit the members of the organisation that is advocating for it.
Of course the stark reality is that whoever’s in charge gets to decide what sort of cake it is, and while we can encourage them to use a good recipe rather than the one with baking soda and zucchini in it, the government of the day gets to decide on policy, and final accountability for that is at the ballot box.
And to go back to the ‘poisoned cake’ scenario – this is a different objection some people have raised – i.e. it might look delicious, but it can’t be trusted. All we can do then is try to ensure it isn’t- keeping an eye on the ingredients as they’re put in (i.e. our engagement with negotiating it into the collective agreement) and then not everyone chowing down at once (i.e. it’s rolled our gradually, and voluntarily). We’ve achieved both of those things.
So yes, you may prefer a different cake. But get your arguments right. Is this a bad cake? How do we know your one will be better? And is your solution a cake, or is it a sausage roll?