In her weekly column in yesterday’s Sydney Daily Telegraph, education writer Ms Marilyn Parker has put together another diatribe against the private school system. The basis for this latest rant is (partly) the notion that, by offering scholarships luring talented public school pupils into the non-government sector, private schools are thereby harming the educational prospects for the less talented pupils who remain in government schools. Hence the article’s print edition title of “Take the cream and the others will curdle” and Ms Parker’s contention that
As [public] schools lose such families [middle class families with academically successful children] they become more marginalised. Just one or two high achieving families leaving a school can trigger a spiral effect.But what evidence can Ms Parker adduce in support of this assertion? She provides no data to which the reader can refer, so one must infer that the only evidence that Ms Parker has for this is anecdotal. Now I will concede that there is probably a grain of truth in the notion that the loss of high-achieving pupils will have a negative effect on other pupils, but I think that it is a preposterous exaggeration to say that it will produce a “spiral effect” (unless those one or two pupils come from a school population of no more than a handful!) since one would expect there to be a critical mass that needs to be reached; in a grade of a hundred or more pupils it seems highly unlikely that the tipping point would be one or two. And even once this critical mass has been reached (if such a tipping point even exists) there is still the question of balancing the improvement in results for the departing pupils with the deterioration of results for the remaining ones, but Ms Parker only looks at it from the point of view of the remaining pupils. Now I’m a strong believer in Catholic social teaching and hence acknowledge that an authority can impose a disadvantage on an individual if a proportionately greater advantage is expected thereby to be conferred on the community, but it’s hard to imagine that the loss of one or two, or any small number, of pupils will have a catastrophic effect on the remainder, and any deleterious effects have to be weighed against the gains—not just short-term financial, but long-term career prospects and so on—made by the scholarship recipient.
Later in the article Ms Parker goes on to say that
We already have an elite minority of well educated medium and high socio-economic families. What we need is a majority of well educated Australians.But Ms Parker completely ignores the fact that the public system practices élitism itself by designating some schools as ‘selective’ schools that only accept the more talented pupils! She is happy to inveigh against what one might called mixed financial-educational incentives (scholarships, with their accompanying promise of better marks) but fails to be even-handed by criticising purely educational incentives (the enticement of better marks that one expects at a selective school), despite the fact that both produce the effect (by her logic) of harming results for pupils in the so-called ‘comprehensive’ (non-selective) schools, which was Ms Parker’s focus in this article.
And the only way to get that is to have a quality public system that has not been stripped bare of all the easy to educate students and any who have potential of some kind.
A while later Ms Parker alleges another unethical aspect to the situation:
But offering St Spyridon type scholarships is immoral on another level. As the Greens education spokesman John Kaye pointed out St Spyridon is taking twice as much for each student from governments in subsidies than it is offering as a scholarship. [… ] [I]f the scholarships are being used to fill classes in classrooms that are already paid for, taught by teachers that are already paid for, it is hardly an act of charity.(Once again we see Ms Parker taking her cue from the notoriously anti-Christian Greens.) So here we are reminded that one really cannot win with these secularists: if the private schools had retained the money that would otherwise go into scholarships then the secularists would be condemning the schools for selfishness (spending the money on 'another swimming pool', or some silly attack like that), yet here we have schools offering scholarships for families who might not otherwise have been able to afford admission for their children, and the schools are accused of immorality.
I conclude by noting that Ms Parker seems to be mistaken about the very case that provoked her reflections, the case of a Greek-Schismatic school’s $3000 scholarship—which, it appears, is not even paid for by the school! See what a reader, ‘Jonah of Sydney’, has to say at the on-line edition of Ms Parker’s article:
Firstly, get your facts straight: the scholarship is parish funded, not paid for by the school. The money needed is raised by the St Spyridon parish in support of its community school, and not paid for by taxpayers, so therefore your linking of public and private school funding issues to this scholarship is completely irrelevant.Reginaldvs Cantvar