Gonski is on the Right Track – Money Does Matter for Disadvantaged Students

The Gonski funding model is on the right track in boosting funding for under-resourced schools and disadvantaged students. Recent academic research shows a positive relationship between school outcomes and funding, especially for the disadvantaged. It suggests that the refusal of the Victorian, Queensland, Western Australian and Northern Territory governments to sign on to Gonski will deprive low income, Indigenous and remote area students of the chance to improve their results.

The new study finds firm evidence that increasing school resources in England has improved student results and that more targeted spending has benefitted disadvantaged students. It adds to the weight of existing research evidence that targeting resources on disadvantaged groups is beneficial in raising their results and reducing inequality in educational outcomes.

The finding supports the case for governments to sign up for Gonski. Together with the other research evidence it puts the Gonski naysayers to the sword. It shows that money does matter in education, especially for disadvantaged students.

The new evidence comes from the latest issue of the academic journal Educational Research. It reviews the results of several recent English research studies.

Two of the studies reviewed evaluated the relationship between expenditure and student attainment in English secondary schools based on outcomes at age 14 and 16. Both found a positive effect of increased expenditure on student performance.

Another study examined the Excellence in Cities programme for English secondary schools in the early 2000s. In this programme, schools in disadvantaged, mainly urban, areas of England were given extra resources to try to improve standards. The study found evidence of improved mathematics results but not for English.

Two other studies have examined the effects of school expenditure in primary schools. One covered the years 2002 to 2007 when there was a large increase in school expenditure in England. It found evidence of a consistently positive effect of expenditure across subjects. The effect was bigger than that found for secondary schools.

Another study examined schools in urban areas with higher concentrations of disadvantaged students than the national average. It found that expenditure differences between schools leads to a large differential in student achievement at the end of primary school. For example, the effect of an extra £1000 per student is equivalent to moving 19 per cent of students currently achieving the target grade in maths to the top grade and moving 31 per cent of students currently below the target grade to the target grade.

These recent English studies add to the weight of evidence from other countries that increased funding does make a difference to education outcomes, especially for disadvantaged students. For example, studies in the US by Nobel Laureate Professor James Heckman and various colleagues demonstrate that large benefits are derived from increased expenditure on disadvantaged students.

Even studies that find a weak overall relationship between funding and general student outcomes find bigger effects for disadvantaged students. One such Danish study found that the effect of raising school expenditure on low income students is about three times as high as for the average student.

One reason why some research studies show positive results of increased school expenditure and others no effect or negative impacts is that outcomes really depend on how the money is used. There is a complex interaction between different resources available to schools in how they are used that is not always captured by statistical models.

The eminent US education economist W. Norton Grubb says that when the interaction of resources is considered, “the conclusion that ‘school resources do not make a difference’ is quite wrong, then, and has been the result of studies that are weakly conceptualized and dependent on impoverished data”.

Australia faces a huge challenge to improve the education outcomes of low SES and Indigenous students. Without Gonski it is not going to happen. The Gonski funding increase promises to be a worthwhile investment if it is targeted at those most in need and at effective programs.

Apart from the NSW Government which was first to sign up to Gonski, Coalition governments are playing cheap politics. They are turning their backs on increased funding for disadvantaged schools and students for party political gain.

Some 36 per cent or more of all Victorian, Queensland and Northern Territory students and 30 per cent of Western Australian students are from low income families. Nearly 60 per cent of all Indigenous students in Australia are enrolled in schools in these states and the Territory.

The Napthine, Newman, Giles and Barnett governments are prepared to put the education and futures of these children at risk by turning down an additional $9 billion to support these students. It is unconscionable. They should give up the politics and sign on to Gonski.

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