Media bias against non-government schools
12th September 2012

In the following, published in the Australian, I argue that the ABC, the Fairfax Press and many academics are biased against non-government schools.

NOW that Julia Gillard has endorsed the Gonski report in principle, and state and federal governments are deciding what the new model will look like post 2013, Australia's cultural-Left institutions such as the ABC, the Fairfax press and a number of universities are mounting a one-sided campaign against non-government schools by giving critics a free run.

The failure to offer a balanced and objective view of the funding debate is best illustrated by the ABC's 7.30 program telecast on August 20. The program centred on disadvantaged government schools.

Non-government school opponent Richard Teese, of the University of Melbourne, argued: "The biggest single predictor of differences in achievement is the social background of children."

This reinforces the argument that money must be redirected from non-government schools to government schools, but it is incorrect.

Teese's argument that there is no advantage in parents paying fees to send their children to non-government schools, as such schools fail to outperform government school students after adjusting for socioeconomic background, is also not supported by the research.

Another academic who is vocal in his opposition to non-government schools, David Zyngier from Monash University, has also been given airtime on the national broadcaster.

In ABC radio's The World Today on September 7, Zyngier was one of two pro-government-school voices versus a token independent school representative.

Zyngier argues that the main reason why Australia is outperformed by a number of Asian countries is because of "parents paying enormous amounts of their money for private tuition after school". He also repeats the mantra that demography is destiny and that children from low socioeconomic backgrounds are doomed to failure.

In fact, Asian countries outperform Australia because they have a more academic curriculum and more effective classroom pedagogy, their students face high-risk tests and the culture respects and values learning.

It's no accident that, compared with many Western countries, Hong Kong, South Korea and Japan have significantly higher proportions of students defined as resilient - that is, classified as disadvantaged but able to achieve high performance.

A recent seminar at La Trobe University organised by Robert Manne, titled Education in Australia: The Struggle for Greater Equality, involved Carmen Lawrence, Teese and Dennis Altman. All were critical of funding to Catholic and independent schools. (Manne says a spokesman from the independent school sector had been invited to the seminar, making it three to one, but was unable to attend.)

Since the Gonski review was established more than two years ago the Fairfax press's editorial stance has been to attack non-government schools and to give priority to critics such as Jane Caro, Teese, Lawrence, Kenneth Davidson, and Trevor Cobbold.

Two pieces in last weekend's edition of The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age best illustrate this bias.

In the piece titled "No fair go at school: Gonski", those interviewed include Lawrence, Zyngier and Chris Bonnor, and the argument that socioeconomic background determines success or failure is repeated.

Research by Gary Marks of the Australian Council for Educational Research analysing the impact of socioeconomic background on performance across 30 countries was ignored; it concludes that "both between and within schools, differences in student performance are not largely accounted for by socioeconomic background".

Also ignored is research commissioned by the OECD, published in a report titled "Let's Read Them a Story!", which concludes that, regardless of socioeconomic background, parents who read to their preschool children bolster their chances of educational success.

The report says, "PISA (Programme for International Student Assessment) results show that even among families with similar socioeconomic backgrounds, reading books to young children is still strongly related to better performance when those children reach the age of 15."

The second piece, published in The Age and titled "The invisible backpack, and why it makes the education gap hard to close", also repeats the cultural-Left view of education and includes comment by Zyngier and Teese.

Luckily, we have a free media and independent universities but on issues like school funding cultural-Left group-think is evident and, as a result, debate and public discussion suffer.


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12th September 2012

In the following, published in the Australian, I argue that the ABC, the Fairfax Press and many academics are biased against non-government schools.NOW that Julia Gillard has endorsed the Gonski rep...
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