Education Agenda

By Donnelly, Kevin | Review - Institute of Public Affairs, July 2000 | Go to article overview
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Education Agenda

Donnelly, Kevin, Review - Institute of Public Affairs

Size Doesn't Matter

Is spending more money the best way to improve educational outcomes and to raise standards?

If one accepts the claims of the Victorian Labor Government, the federal opposition and their trade union ally, the Australian Education Union (AEU), then the answer is `yes'. All argue that expenditure on education must be increased and that this will automatically lead to improved learning.

Nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that throwing more money at education, by itself, is simply a waste of taxpayers' resources. As stated in the year 2000 edition of the OECD's report `Education at a Glance', when comparing the results of international tests with the amount of money spent on education in different countries:

There seems to be neither a strong nor a consistent relationship between the volume of resources invested nationally and student outcomes. This suggests that international variation cannot be explained merely in terms of financial and staff resources and that the search for improvement in school performance must extend to factors that lie beyond material inputs.

Reducing class sizes provides a case in point. Given its debt to the AEU for helping to deliver a raft of marginal seats at the last Victorian State election, it should be no surprise that the Bracks Government has quickly delivered on its promise to employ more teachers and to reduce class sizes.

Forget that the overwhelming consensus is that smaller classes do not lead to improved standards. As stated in the 1997 OECD report, `Education at a Glance': `... but there is no conclusive evidence that reducing class sizes is always the best policy option for improving the achievement of students and the utilization of educational resources'.

Additional evidence that small is not necessarily best can be found in a meta-analysis carried out by the American academic Eric Hanushek. His 1998 study, `The Evidence on Class Size', concludes: `In sum, while policies to reduce class size may enjoy popular political appeal, such policies are very expensive and, according to the evidence, quite ineffective'.

A recently released paper analysing data provided by the American National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) supports Hanushek's conclusion. The paper, entitled `Do Small Classes Influence Academic Achievement?

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