Australia should embrace ‘US-style privately managed public schools’

Charter schools have the potential to boost academic performance, a new report has found.State governments should look to US-style “charter schools” – privately managed public schools – as a way to boost the poor academic results of Australian students, a new report argues.

The report, published by the free market Centre for Independent Studies, argues that charter schools would encourage innovation and extend school choice to poorer parents who cannot afford private schooling.

Charter schools would be funded at an equivalent rate to public schools, but would be run by private organisations – including non-profit and for-profit companies. They would not charge fees.

“Charter schools can be much more responsive to the challenges local communities face,” one of the report’s authors, CIS policy analyst Trisha Jha, said.

“There has been a strong trend towards greater school autonomy in Australia over recent years and this would be the next step to bring more flexibility and choice into the public system.”

The report, Free to Choose Charter Schools: How charter and for-profit schools can boost public education, says the United States, England, Sweden, Chile and New Zealand have all introduced forms of charter schooling.

A review of academic studies on US charter schools found small academic improvements overall, but strong positive impacts for disadvantaged families – especially if schools adopt high expectations and a “no excuses” approach. The most successful US charter schools are run by non-profit “chains”, running networks of schools in disadvantaged communities, the report finds.

Ms Jha said charter schools would expand the educational options for low-income families.”The use of residential zoning to determine public school enrolments means choice is currently limited to parents who can enter the non-government sector or who can afford to move house,” she said.

Parents would apply for their children to attend a charter school and if there were excessive applications a lottery system would apply.

The results of Australian students in international tests have been stagnating or going backwards despite significant funding increases, the report argues, and charter schools could help correct this.

Education Minister Christopher Pyne has stressed the importance of school autonomy and allocated $70 million to make public schools more independent.

Australian Education Union president Correna Haythorpe said allowing for-profit companies to run schools would be a “disaster” for Australia’s schooling system.

“The key to improving our schools system is to invest in schools through needs-based Gonski funding and ensure that all schools have the resources to deliver a quality education to every child,” she said.

“OECD research shows that the best-performing systems are those which focus on equity in funding.”

Grattan Institute school education program director Peter Goss said teacher quality was the most important factor in boosting results and that this was only partly dependent on the level of autonomy from government a school has.

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