Well, give me some statistics about something I care about, and I can’t help myself. I’ve just spent an enjoyable hour and a half getting statistics about all our local primary schools, plus the high schools we’re thinking of sending Chatterboy and Hungry Boy to.*
Robert at Larvatus Prodeo points out some of the problems the site has if you happen to be compared with a selective school – the demographics of the parents of a selective school probably aren’t as important to the NAPLAN results as the fact that all the students have passed an exam to get in. I’d add to that a problem here in NSW – OC classes for year 5 make some schools (eg my old school) look very strange. If you double the size of a year cohort, by adding a group of students who are all in the top 5% of the state, you’ll appear to do a fantastic job of teaching your year 5 students! Not surprisingly, the school is suddenly substantially better than every single one of its statistically similar schools for Year 5.
The Grattan Institute (via LP) has a report pointing out that there are better ways to measure students than a crude correction for demographics – value add (looking at the change in students’ individual scores from year to year) is a much better way of measuring school performance, and has the advantage of being more comparative across demographic starting points (although then you run into the problem of which school gets the credit, given the tests are done fairly early in the school year).
Helen, who hasn’t managed to get on to the site, laments the continuing commodification of our schools.
For myself, I’m mostly too busy wallowing in statistics to draw any conclusions. But I’d really like to know what we parents are expected to do with the information. Julia Gillard said:
And what people will see is they’ll probably see some areas where their child’s school is going well or better than similar schools or as well as or better than the national average. They might see some areas where their school is falling that bit behind and they’ll want to go and have a conversation at the school about what they can do to lift that performance.
But when people have chosen a school, I think what they will do is they will look at My School and if there’s an area that they think their school needs to lift in then they will be there talking to the teachers, talking to the principal, working in partnerships with school to lift those standards.
There is a limit to how much control parents have over the children’s education. There are generally lots of reasons why people live where they do, and enormous costs (social, as well as economic) to moving house, or moving their children to a school further away. And there is also a limit to the influence any parent, no matter how involved, can have over the performance of their local school. Most teachers, quite reasonably, will resent parents telling them how they can teach their little darlings better.
But the government has had access to this information for quite some time. And what have they done with it? They have funded schools strictly on a formula which nobody, even the beneficiary schools, believe has any semblance of fairness. If they really believed that this information was useful in improving school performance, then they would already be using it to try and improve the performance of all those schools which have a below average performance. But I can’t see any evidence of that in this government’s “education revolution”. Instead, every school in the country, regardless of how good their facilities already are, has a building program. And I’ve not seen any evidence in any educational policy announcement of the struggling schools getting any extra help or resources to lift them to the level of the most successful schools.
* Actually the most interesting part of the site, for me, was the socio-economic scores themselves. Some surprises there in which schools had the highest scores around where we live. I suspect that some of the counter-intuitive results (Mosman not being the highest, for example) came from the proportion of Mosman parents who send their children to private schools even in primary school.