The Howard Government’s new $50 000 reward for better school performance is an invitation to schools to cheat, ‘game the system’, poach high achieving students from each other and discriminate against some students says Save Our Schools, a Canberra-based public education advocacy group.
SOS spokesperson, Trevor Cobbold, said that the $53 million could be better used to increase funding for schools with high student learning needs rather than dissipated in fruitless and destructive competition between schools for students.
“Julie Bishop’s new scheme is just a $53 million competition fund to see which schools can enrol more high achieving students and expel more low achieving students. It will mean increased selection of students by schools, more student expulsions and suspensions and greater discrimination against students from target equity groups.
“The easiest way for schools to improve their performance will be to replace low achieving students with those who generate better test results. They can do this by ‘creaming off’ high achieving students from other schools and/or by getting rid of their low achieving students.
“Already we have seen the harbinger of what is to come with revelations last year of extensive poaching of students by Haileybury College (Melbourne) from some 50 other government and private schools.
“We will also see increased discrimination against students with disabilities, students with limited English, Indigenous students and students from low socio-economic status family backgrounds. Schools vying for the money will deny entry to these students or palm them off to other schools.
“Schools now have an immediate financial incentive ‘game the system’ by encouraging low achievers to leave the school rather than spend the time and resources to improve their learning. Suspension and expulsion of students is also a quick and easy way for schools to remove those who might perform badly in tests.
“Cheating is another easy way for schools to manipulate their results to make it appear as if they are improving performance. Teachers will be under pressure from school leaders to assist students in tests or to change answers.”
Mr. Cobbold said that overseas experience with school performance rankings shows that schools generally respond by cheating on tests, ‘gaming the system’ and poaching or creaming-off high achieving students from other schools rather than taking on more low achieving students.
“These responses are endemic in England and the United States where tests are used to rank schools. In the last year alone, cheating incidents have occurred in a number of school districts in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Texas and Virginia.
“Many schools in England and the US increase their test outcomes by excluding low achieving students from tests in a variety of ways such as exempting them from tests, holding them back a year, suspending them at test time and by encouraging them to be absent at the time of tests, or to leave the school.
“Rampant covert selection, exclusion from school and discrimination against some students to improve school rankings are well-documented occurrences in English schools.”
Mr. Cobbold said that the $50 000 reward will likely distract schools from making genuine improvements in literacy and numeracy.
“Ms. Bishop would be better advised to put the $53 million directly into schools where there are high levels of student learning need. More high qualified teachers, additional support staff and more equipment and learning resources could make a real difference to the performance of these schools.”