The Barnett/Constable regime continues to urge schools across Western Australia to “line-up and sign-up” to become Independent Public Schools.
Nowhere do they talk about improved student outcomes or improved teacher outcomes – because neither exist.
The only real outcome that matters to them is a reduction in the annual education budget.
The SSTUWA, through Unions WA, commissioned an independent study by the Curtin University Graduate School of Business into Independent Public Schools.
The study was conducted by Research Fellow Dr Scott Fitzgerald and Professor Al Rainnie, the Chair of the CGSB Research and Development.
The key findings of that study are:
An increasing hierarchy within schools distances teachers from principals who are now asked, for example, to make hard decisions about whether to cut teaching positions to fund educational programs. Indeed, in Western Australia in the 1990s a clear distance emerged between teacher unions and principal associations over the pace and direction of school 'reform'.
Such tensions will only rise as a tight labour market, associated with a projected shortfall of 3000 teachers in the state within five years, coincides with the push for salary increases.
As the work of the principals has become more difficult and less attractive, turnover rates amongst principals in Australia have risen markedly (Beder 2009; Education Workforces Initiatives Taskforce 2007).
Marie Brennan, Professor of Education at the University of South Australia argues that an initial trend towards a higher proportion of women in senior positions within self-managing schools has reversed with fewer women willing to take up principalships; this reflects, moreover, an overall decline in the proportion of senior women in the education sector as a whole (Brennan 2009)
Research has shown that the shift to self-managing schools has had pernicious effects with regards to teachers' work and identity (Considine 2005; Brennan 2009; Smyth 2003, 2008).
While self-managing schools may permit some teachers to be more innovative, in most cases the raised expectations, absence of additional professional development and increased administrative workloads have only resulted in increased levels of stress and demoralisation.
The consequences for teachers' work were particularly strong in the area of assessment, which has become both standardised and intensified.
Under the guise of accountability requirements, teachers are treated in increasingly disrespectful, distrustful and suspicious ways;
Recentralisation of control over teachers through curriculum policy frameworks that are held in place by testing regimes, performance pay and league tables; assessment replaces learning in government schools; incessant assessment and measurement tied into turning schools into quasi-markets;
Attempts to standardise, benchmark and homogenise teaching to a one-size fits all model; and
The tyranny of transparency is associated with the leaching away of trust (Smyth 2003).
Between 1992 and 1999 the Victorian State devolved 93 per cent of the State Government's public education budget to individual schools.
In what ranks as one of the largest processes of educational restructuring, the Kennett Government amalgamated or closed over 600 schools, designated four and a half thousand teachers in “excess of need" and privatised school cleaning.
At the same time that the Victorian teacher workforce was downsized, it was also restructured via a new industrial relations system, new performance requirements and new teacher career paths (the Professional Recognition Program).
In all over eight thousand teachers (20 per cent of the teaching force) accepted voluntary redundancy packages.
The report concludes: “The new dominant rationalities have not proven to be beneficial to all students and are proving harmful to teachers and, in many cases, to managers.
“If extended through a role out of Independent Public Schools, this approach threatens to lower the quality of the education system that is available to all of the Western Australian public.
“As national and international experience indicates, the push for schools to become more business-like is often a strategic step in opening up these areas for more thorough-going privatisation and commercial intervention”.
In 2002, the New York State Legislature granted control of a new Department of Education to the new mayor, who had become a billionaire by building an immense media company, Bloomberg, that is renowned for firing employees at will and not giving contracts even to senior executives.
Mayor Bloomberg quickly hired Joel Klein, who, as an Assistant Attorney General in the Clinton Administration, was the lead prosecutor in a major antitrust case against Microsoft.
In 2005, Klein fired Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi from the teacher training program, reportedly because of Khalidi's political views.
In August 2008 the then Education Minister Julia Gillard, in an address to the Australian Council for Education Research, endorsed aspects on the New York education system where Joel Klein had started ranking schools based on student performance.
He also closed schools, and threatened others with closure if they didn't become Charter Schools (Independent Public Schools).
Gillard told the ACER conference that the New York system was one from which Australia could learn and said she was inspired after meeting New York City's schools chancellor Joel Klein.
"We can learn from Klein's methodology of comparing like-schools with like-schools and then measuring the differences in school results in order to spread best practice," she said.
"Something Joel Klein is personally and passionately committed to is the identification of school need, the comparison of like-schools and the identification of best practice.”
By October 2008 she had invited Klein to come to Australia.
She told political guru Laurie Oakes that “I'm delighted to say I've invited Joel Klein to visit Australia and he's accepted that invitation. He will be here in the last week of November.
His tour of Australia was sponsored.
Joel Klein of course has pioneered a system in New York, a city of great wealth but also pockets of great disadvantage, he's pioneered a system of school transparency which lets you compare like schools with like schools, the sorts of schools that are servicing the same student populations, and to monitor what's working and to make sure that best practice is spread, and schools that are struggling get extra assistance.
“It's working in New York, it impressed me when I was there and he will be here in Australia talking publicly but also talking to Australian educators about his system”.
Oakes asked: “Are you hoping that he'll be able to convince state Education Ministers and more importantly perhaps education unions that this is the right approach because they haven't been at all keen on this have they?
Gillard replied:”I believe convincing Education Ministers and teachers generally this is the right approach in this country, is my job.
“And what we've said very clearly and what the Prime Minister has said, is we are committed to a new era of school transparency in this country, we believe parents deserve to know what's going on in schools, we believe the public should also know and be able to compare the performance of like schools with like schools, but at the end of the day we believe we need this information because if we see a school that is doing tremendously well, we want to spread that best practice, if we see a school that is falling behind, we want to step in with a helping hand.
“So I will keep persuading on the transparency measures here and we will deliver them by the end of this year but I believe having Joel Klein here talking about his experience, will add another dimension to that debate”.
Well, Klein came and went – and we were left with NAPLAN and the MySchool website.
From the role with New York’s education system, Klein has also moved on.
By November 2010, Rupert Murdoch's News Corporation had employed him.
Klein started in his new role after a decade overseeing New York City's schools where he was paid around $250,000 a year.
His base salary with News Corp will be eight times that at $2 million plus a cash signing-on bonus of $1 million.
He has also been set an annual bonus target of not less than $1.5 million.
Mr. Murdoch said in a news release that Mr. Klein would be a senior adviser to him “on a wide range of initiatives, including developing business strategies for the emerging educational marketplace.”