Wendy James posts the thoughts on public schools of pseudonymous teacher S. Whiplash, who says
If the figures are to be believed, increasing numbers of Australian parents are choosing to send their children to private schools. I believe this is happening totally – well, maybe not totally, but damn near – because parents are unhappy with the values being taught in public schools. Some of these values are taught overtly and some covertly. Either way, parents don’t like the values package on offer and are voting with their children’s feet.
As it happens, my opinion piece in yesterdays Financial Review (subscription required)was on this very topic, making the point that economists would look at the issue rather differently
Consider first the premise, shared by Howard and many of his critics, that the shift in enrolments from public to private schools must reflect increasing dissatisfaction with the public system. An economic appraisal suggests a much less abstract explanation.
Thanks to changes in Commonwealth government policy, subsidies to private education have been steadily increasing. Meanwhile the effective subsidy to publicly educated students has remained constant or declined in recent years. Standard economic analysis suggests that when a service is subsidised, its consumption will increase.
The analysis even works when comparing Catholic and other independent schools. Under Labor, the Catholic system received fairly generous assistance, but aid to the wealthier independent schools was limited. The Howard government has greatly increased aid to the wealthiest schools and enrolments have followed, with both government and Catholic schools losing market share in recent years.
From this perspective, in fact, the surprise is that the increase in attendance at private schools has been so small. In 1963, before the Menzies government began the provision of government aid to private schools, around 24 per cent of students attended non-government schools. After 40 years of steadily increasing public assistance, the non-government share has reached only 32 per cent. This suggests either that parental preference for non-government schools is very weak, or that the perceived advantages of private education have been declining over time.
I should observe that one reason for high attendence at private schools before 1963 was the effective subsidy provided by the voluntary labour of members of religious orders in Catholic schools. The gradual disappearance of this group and its replacement by lay teachers, paid out of public subsidies, has greatly reduced the differences between Catholic and government schools.