More Govt. Dishonesty on Small Schools

The Minister for Education has again been caught out with mis-information designed to mislead the public. SOS spokesperson, Dr. Ian Morgan, said that the Minister has selectively and falsely cited research on small schools, while trying unsuccessfully to clear himself of previous accusations.

“The research findings on school size cited by the Minister in fact demonstrate that the Government should withdraw its school closure plan. The findings contradict the Government’s case to close small schools.”

Dr. Morgan was responding to a press release issued yesterday by the Minister that cites the research findings on school size summarized by Professor Brian Caldwell, former Dean of the School of Education at Melbourne University.

“The Minister has selectively quoted Professor Caldwell while ignoring the full import of Professor Caldwell’s findings which show that small schools do better than big schools on a whole range of criteria.

“The Minister also claimed that ‘Schools with low student numbers often struggle to provide the same breadth of curriculum for students and can be stretched for resources leading to pressure on teaching staff.’

“The Minister fails to cite Professor Caldwell’s key finding that: ‘Much school consolidation has been based on the beliefs that larger schools are less expensive to operate and have higher-quality curricula than small schools. Research has demonstrated, however, that neither of these assertions is necessarily true.’ (our emphasis)

“The rest of Professor Caldwell’s summary of the literature provides a devastating critique of the Government’s promotion of big schools. These findings are:

  • Academic achievement in small schools is at least equal – and often superior – to that of large schools.
  • Student attitudes towards school in general and toward particular school subjects are more positive in small schools.
  • Student social behaviour – as measured by truancy, discipline problems, violence, theft, substance abuse, and gang participation – is more positive in small schools.
  • Levels of extracurricular participation are much higher and more varied in small schools than large ones, and students in small schools derive greater satisfaction from their extracurricular participation.
  • Student attendance is better in small schools than in large ones.
  • A smaller percentage of students drop out of small schools than large ones.
  • Students have a greater sense of belonging in small schools than in large ones.
  • Student academic and general self-concepts are higher in small schools than in large ones.
  • A smaller percentage of students drop out of small schools than large ones.
  • Interpersonal relations between and among students, teachers, and administrators are more positive in small schools than in large ones.
  • Students from small and large high schools do not differ from one another on college-related variables such as entrance examination scores, acceptance rates, attendance, grade point average, and completion.
  • Teacher attitudes toward their work and their administrators are more positive in small schools than in large ones.

“And Professor Caldwell’s summary has one final sting in the tail for the Stanhope Government.

  • Poor students and those of racial and ethnic minorities are more adversely affected – academically, attitudinally, and behaviourally – by attending large schools than are other students.”

The full summary is available at Professor Caldwell’s website.

Dr. Morgan said that the Minister’s handling of the Towards 2020 proposal has brought the Government’s credibility and honesty into question.

“Many of the Government’s figures on school capacity and costs have been shown to be incorrect; it has massively and deceptively over-stated the costs of small schools; and now it has selectively and falsely cited the research on small schools.

“Clearly, the Minister cannot be trusted to provide accurate information to the Canberra community. His credibility, and that of the Towards 2020 proposals, is in tatters. It is time that the Chief Minister took control and responsibility for this shambles.”

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