School autonomy another market measure

Just before Christmas, Julia Gillard announced the next step in her free market vision for schools.
Her proposal for “school autonomy” would give school principals and parent representatives at individual schools the ability to hire and fire teachers.

This would abolish a statewide system of appointments. Some states have already introduced this, but NSW and Queensland retain statewide systems. It is here that Gillard’s “reforms” are aimed. State-wide staffing systems give teachers credit points for working at schools in regional or disadvantaged areas. Ending them would make it harder for these schools to attract teachers.

The plan is part of the neo-liberal “New York” model of schooling, involving market mechanisms like performance pay, mass testing of students (NAPLAN), and the corporate takeover of so called failing schools: a privatisation agenda. Gillard herself visited New York and spoke to the architect of the model, Joel Klein. With Labor’s retreat from social democratic principles, this market-based agenda has filled the policy vacuum.

However, all is not going well for the free marketeers. The launch of MySchool 2010, the website that ranks schools based on NAPLAN scores, has been delayed by three months until March. This is due to threats of legal action by private schools over how it records their income. The site has also been discredited by its ridiculous school comparisons and calculations about which schools are the most advantaged.

Criticism of mass testing is growing. Conservative education author Dr Kevin Donnelly wrote last November of his “about-face” on standardised testing after hearing the arguments of US Professor Diane Ravitch, herself a former advocate of the New York model.

If MySchool 2.0 goes live and league tables are subsequently published, the AEU intends to resume some form of industrial action, which it avoided carrying through last year. However mass testing through NAPLAN itself is designed to force schools to compete and paint teachers as to blame for student performance.

The unions’ response will remain weakened until they oppose the mass testing regime itself—the centrepiece of the market agenda in schools.
By John Morris


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