Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Education Spending

In the car today, I heard a report on the Australian national broadcaster's radio station ( about the rate of spending on Government schools in Australia.

From this I learnt that as a fraction of GDP, Australia spent less public money on schools than all but one other OECD country. I also learnt that Australian teachers in public schools are paid less than many other countries.

Then, this comparative spend-rate was used as "evidence" that schools are under-resourced. What? I waited, and waited, but no one asked the obvious questions.

1. What are the results? Oh, they're pretty good.
2. Are we aiming to just spend money, or achieve education outcomes?
3. What are salaries compared to other public servants? This is just interesting though, if we can achieve educational outcomes spending less, why wouldn't we?
4. How is spending related to student numbers? My guess is Australia has a higher number of children in private schools, which would more than explain the increased fraction of public funds going to private schools.
5. Is private and self-funded education working? For example are disadvantaged socio-economic groups achieving as well here as elsewhere?

I am getting more and more concerned that government achievement is measured by how much they spend. I keep hearing "We spend a whole bunch of cash doing something, so we must be good." Most businesses and households don't work like that. We have to make complex cost-benefit trade-offs.

It's not clear to me at all that spending more public money on education is in the best interests of the students, the parents or the country as a whole. I admit that there may be benefits, but statistics like these are totally useless even in comparing how we are doing, rather than how we are spending, compared to other economies.

When the spend rate part of the report is used as "evidence" that we are "under investing" (code for spending, but it sounds better), then I begin to suspect there is no real evidence.