Australian Lefty on Politics, Governance, Science and Info Management

International valuation of our state schools (and Norton v Leigh)

Posted by Dave Bath on 2007-12-06

The Melbourne Murdoch tabloid "The Herald-Sun" recently reported that students (mainly from Asia) are paying about $10,000 for a place in Victorian state secondary schools.

While the subtext of the piece was "foreigners are keeping our kids out of school", the tabloid did not point an important corollary:

  • These parents place value our state system at not merely A$10K, but probably double that when you realize they also incur added costs, tangible and intangible, of private board, airfares, international phone calls, family dislocation, etc.

This calls into question not only the judgement of parents forking out $20K for private schools, but the value added to the nation’s education system by government funding, direct and indirect, of private schools.

If our state schools are internationally competitive, and making a "profit" from fees of $10K per annum, it becomes valid to wonder about whether charges for private schools are exhorbitant.

Going further along this line, it seems that the judgement of the international community is that our state school systems provide a better educational return on investment than private schools.

Therefore, for similar educational returns, shifting funds from private to state sectors would be worthwhile, and allow parents to spend money on other things that can keep our economy moving.

See Also:

  • I’ve got a number of massive philosophical disagreements, but also agreements with Andrew Norton’s proposals for privatizing public schools series of posts.  This conversation between two blogs, Norton’s and Andrew Leigh’s is well worth reading, and wide ranging, with thought-provoking points from both sides.  The following notes relate to the conversation:
  • On the dollar side, his following thoughts indicates the value of a monolithic association, although perhaps arguing that curricula should be adapted by the teachers of individual schools.  Mind you, he and I come to different conclusions:

    To achieve economies of scale, as I noted earlier in the week, schools could form chains or join associations of like schools.

  • Here’s an example of (I’m not being sarcastic) a guest post’s clear thinking from Day 4:

    Let’s be careful about what we claim for private schools. The fact that private school attendance is positively correlated with civic activity doesn’t tell us anything about the causal impact. It could be that private school kids have rich parents, don’t move house as often, or any of a dozen unobservables. Just as the positive correlation between AWAs and wages doesn’t provide any useful causal evidence, so too correlation doesn’t mean causation in the case of public and private schools.

  • Also on day 4, I think the "guest post" focuses too much on the government funding of an individual child being less in a private school v state school, rather than the total funds (that could be spent on other economic activity) spent on that child.
  • Another quote from Day 4 is worth commenting on:

    While I don’t think private schools have a special gift for turning kids into what Robert Putnam would call "social capitalists", neither do I think that the typical private schools does a worse job of teaching tolerance than the typical public school.

    I’ve argued elsewhere (here and here) that a classical component of a curriculum (more common in private schools, but there are state schools that still teach Latin) can create a greater sense of civic responsibility, and better human beings.

  • On Day 3 Norton’s following comment makes me skeptical, because I do not think our education system has resulted in a democracy envisaged by the luminaries of the Enlightment (witness the acceptability to the masses of Howard’s dismantling of legal rights, the acceptability of ministerial irresponsibilities, the acceptability of the Iraq fiasco, etc, etc)

    Australia is a long-term successful democracy despite the absence or failure of civics education in our public schools.

    Obviously, Norton and I differ on criteria for "success".

2 Responses to “International valuation of our state schools (and Norton v Leigh)”

  1. I will follow up on the issue of what state schools are charging international students, because if that figure is correct it matches what I have been finding in higher education: that overseas students are being charged less for a place than the government is spending on domestic students (closer to $12K per student per year in Victorian state secondary schools).

    This is not necessarily mispricing because of the difference between average and marginal cost, ie the average cost might be $12,000 but once the school is already operating it may cost less than that to add another few students to the classroom.

    However it highlights the difficulty in comparing the marginal cost of international students at state schools with the average cost of students at elite private schools.

  2. Dave Bath said

    I’ll note that the state schools are charging this only for “spare places”, so perhaps it reflects a discount price analogous to the way some seats on planes are discounted at the last minute (the plane is flying anyway, so another passenger costs little extra apart from fuel).

    The figure for charges is approximate (years 11 and 12 are charged more, lower years are charged less).

    Apparently, once numbers of “in-zone” kids are confirmed, principals are heading overseas on marketing tours.

    It’s an interesting topic, and your dialogue series of posts with Andrew Leigh is a very welcome contribution. Good use of blogging Andrews!! (Drat, how should I pluralize “Andrew” and get a difference from the surname of the unlamented former Minister For Inflaming Opinions About People From Overseas?)

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