For more than a decade, parents have been treated to a prolonged debate around school reform and the urgent need to increase “student achievement.” Much of that debate has centered around the importance of increased standardized testing, ranking of schools based on those test results, and the subsequent competitive benefits that flow from that to influence school choice.
But recent research published in the US and more extensively in Australia seemingly contradicts many of the assumptions that underpin such thinking, and in fact identifies a number of myths about parent’s expectations of their children’s schools, and the things they care about most. In short, we don’t like the tests nearly as much as politicians seem to, and we’re not using test results as a main determiner for where to send our kids to school.
All of this is supported by increasing evidence which dismisses the notion that school competition will drive performance in school systems. The Australian research, from the Grattan Institute, also addresses research from several other countries including Sweden, New Zealand and the US, and argues strongly that attempts to raise standards by introducing “vouchers or subsidies to private (read Charter) schools (will not) make much difference.”
In fact the research further highlights that parents make choices about their child’s schooling on the basis of a much broader range of criteria, which include the breadth of subjects available for study, the quality of sporting and non-academic facilities such as music and drama and the obvious geographical proximity to their home.
The simple fact is that a large numbers of schools face no or very limited competition of the sort that will increase performance. There are many other reasons why. Not enough schools have competitors that are as high-performing, have room for new students, are affordable for enough families, or are physically close enough to provide the kind of competition that increases performance across systems. What is more, governments can do little about it. Interventions to increase the capacity of schools or to cut fees through subsidies or vouchers are expensive, and will only have a limited impact on school competition.
What do you think? What are the reasons you sent your son or daughter to their school, and what might cause you to rethink that choice?