A review of research studies on school autonomy in several countries published by Save Our Schools says that there is little evidence to support the Federal Government’s Empowering Local Schools program. SOS national convenor, Trevor Cobbold, said that there is little prospect that greater school autonomy will lead to better student results.
“The research evidence that greater school autonomy will increase student achievement is far from compelling. While some studies show positive effects, the mass of evidence from recent studies in several countries is that greater school autonomy in budgeting and staffing has little impact on student results.
“The evidence comes from New Zealand’s 20-year experiment with decentralized schools, over 20 years of charter schools in the United States, 20 years of ‘free’ schools in Sweden, academies and foundation schools in England, and studies based on results from the OECD’s Programme for International Students Assessments (PISA).
“New Zealand has the most decentralized school system in the OECD. Yet, it has not achieved any significant gains in overall student achievement or any progress in reducing the number of low achievers or closing the gaps between students from rich and poor families.
“Charter schools in the United States are independent schools with public funding. The major research studies show that some do better than traditional public schools, some do no better and some do worse. The major national studies show that charter schools do no better than traditional schools.
“The evidence on the impact of free schools in Sweden is mixed. Foundation schools in England have not improved student achievement while the evidence on the impact of academies is mixed.
“OECD research has found that in the vast majority of countries participating in PISA 2009, including Australia, there was no significant difference between student achievement in schools with a high degree of autonomy in hiring teachers and over the school budget and in schools with lower autonomy. Its study concluded that ‘…school autonomy in resource allocation is not related to performance at the system level’.
“Research studies also show that greater school autonomy has not resulted in more innovation in teaching and curriculum. It appears to have led to greater social segregation between schools in New Zealand, the United States, Sweden and England as well as greater inequality in resourcing and school outcomes in some cases.”
Mr. Cobbold criticised the Federal Government for proceeding with the program without any compelling evidence to support it.
“The evidence in support of school autonomy cited by the Federal Minister for Education is very weak, highly selective and misleading.
“The Minister cites cross-country evidence from PISA that the combination of greater school autonomy and the publication of individual school results leads to higher student achievement. However, the impact is trivial – amounting to only 2.6 points on the PISA scale where one year’s learning is equivalent to 35-40 points.
“Although the NSW and Federal ministers for education claim that the school autonomy pilot project in NSW schools showed improvements in student results, the evaluation report on the project clearly states that no statistical evidence of such an increase exists.”
Mr. Cobbold said that there are better, more effective uses to be made of this funding to improve student results than increasing school autonomy.
“The research evidence shows that the government focus on greater school autonomy is ill-conceived and misplaced.
“The funding for the program would be more effectively spent on directly targeting disadvantage in education. It could be used as a down-payment on the recommendation of the Gonski school funding review for an extra $5 billion to reduce the effects of disadvantage in education, which the report identifies as the major challenge facing Australian education.”