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The Education Crisis in Australia


In recent times, it has been the observation of many, including parents, that our education standards have been slipping. This document incorporates two separate discussion papers addressing this concern.

The Educational Crisis in Schools: What Must Be Done? by Dr Rocco Loiacono

Teacher Training and the Crisis in Australian Higher Education by Professor Matthew Ogilvie


June 2023

Ron Manners AO
Dr Rocco Loiacono
Professor Matthew Ogilvie


  1. Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

    The below commentary on this discussion paper was submitted by Barbary Oakley, Ph.D., P.E., FAIMBE, FIEEE. Barbara is an American professor of engineering at Oakland University and McMaster University whose online courses on learning are some of the most popular MOOC classes in the world. She is involved in multiple areas of research, ranging from STEM education, to learning practices.

    Your introduction, along with the two reports themselves, form a very important set of education papers that, sadly, also describe many trends in US education. Dr. Loiacono’s report is altogether outstanding. My only tangential comment is that the Hellenic Classical Charter School in Brooklyn’s Park, New York is mentioned with relation to its high standards and high achievements. But a perhaps more encompassing example involving New York State is that of the Success Academy. This recent article in the Wall Street Journal describes the remarkable story:

    The school we founded, Success Academy, has blossomed into a network of 49 schools educating 20,000 children. If we were our own school district, we’d be the fifth largest in New York state. Over the past several years, our mainly poor and minority students have done better on average in all subject areas than students in any school district in the Empire State, including affluent suburban districts. Our success is due in no small measure to the Success for All curriculum that Mr. Greenblatt [who initiated and bankrolled the initial charter school approach] championed.

    The city’s education bureaucracy, which for two decades insisted on using an ineffective reading curriculum that doesn’t emphasize phonics, is finally coming around. David Banks, New York City’s schools chancellor since January 2022, recently acknowledged that the old approach was “fundamentally flawed” and offered the following mea culpa to the tens of thousands of public school parents whose children can’t read: “It’s not your fault. It’s not your child’s fault. It was our fault.”

    Mr. Banks’s admission of responsibility is refreshing, but it can’t repair the incredible damage that has been done. In the two decades it took the city to figure out that phonics work, an entire generation of students has been miseducated, with minority students suffering the most. According to the NAEP test, only 12% of black fourth graders and 18% of Hispanic fourth graders in New York are proficient readers.

    How is it that New York City’s massive Education Department, filled with highly trained professional educators, couldn’t see what Mr. Greenblatt saw? The elevation of ideology over evidence is principally to blame. Instead of objectively evaluating what actually works, educators fell in love with the utopian idea that children would naturally learn to read if only teachers made reading fun. In reality, most children need explicit phonics instruction.

    At Success Academy, we have a simple approach: We do what works.

    You can read more about this in Moskowitz’s book: The Education of Eva Moskowitz: A Memoir. What I particularly love about the story of the Success Academy is that it shows how the philanthropic efforts of even a single businessman can have an enormous impact in education by kickstarting fresh ideas and approaches. Much like what you yourself have been achieving, Ron!

    I also loved Matthew Ogilvie’s report. Incidentally, I noted some references to Alan Tudge and his glowing regard for some aspects of California’s university systems. But gosh, California’s university systems suffer many the same problems as Australian universities—except I daresay California’s universities are worse. The root cause of many of the disastrous educational misadventures noted in both reports could be laid at the feet of universities that are foisting bad pedagogy onto teachers. This is particularly apparent in California as, for example, with the proposed California Math Framework. (Here are public comments by Stanford mathematician Brian Conrad showing what a travesty the Framework is.) Perhaps this information is really not relevant, though, with regard the important points that Matthew is making.

    The report mentions the high marketplace value of Chegg in relation to cheating. But Chegg has just taken an enormous hit in the marketplace because of ChatGPT, which makes cheating even easier than Chegg. Matthew may want to re-examine that section and bring it up-to-date—ChatGPT threw a revolutionary new curveball at all of us in education.

    A major challenge with ChatGPT, incidentally, is that educators are now beginning to make the case that students must think at a “higher level,” above ChatGPT. But if students don’t get the neural patterns within themselves for the basics—the same basics that ChatGPT already “knows”—students will find it difficult to be comfortably creative with ChatGPT. The same situation happened when calculators came out in the 1970s. Educators at the time said “We don’t need to teach the multiplication tables anymore, because kids can always look it up!” The result, as the report notes, proved a disaster for Western (reform) educational systems, which are running further and further behind Asian educational systems, particularly in math. Incidentally, improving math education will be a key focus of the eight months of workshops I’ll be giving through New Zealand for NZI in 2025-2026.

    Matthew also noted: “In this author’s opinion, it would be far more cost-effective to fund a liberal arts program or honours college within an existing university.” Just such an effort is in the process of being quashed by a UT-Austin, when the university realized that it might no longer be able to control the ideology of the professors who were planned to be hired. It’s so interesting to note the criticism of the proposed new School, (which supports limited approaches to government), as being “politicized”—as if the rest of the university were not.

    As I mentioned above, New Zealand Initiative is planning to bring Phil (my hubby) and I to New Zealand September, 2025 through April 2026. During this time, I will travel around New Zealand with Dr. Michael Johnston, giving workshops on research-based insights on how and why traditional approaches to teaching must be brought back, with fresh scientific insights, to today’s teachers and children. This is similar to the workshops I will be giving over the next two years with Universidad Francisco Marroquin throughout the Americas. (All of this is based in large part on my award-winning Coursera specialization and book Uncommon Sense Teaching, along with the many other books and courses I’ve created.)

    There are several possibilities for helping to support your work in Australia when I visit in 2025.

    I hope some of these ideas might be useful!


    Barbara Oakley, PhD, PE, FAIMBE, FIEEE

  2. Mannkal Economic Education Foundation

    The below article adds a useful and complementary contribution to the broader conversation of educational standards in Australia today.

    Who will think of the children?
    Dr Joe Kosterich

    All actions have consequences. Sometimes these are immediate and sometimes the effects are not seen for a period of time. For example you can plant an apple seed today and it will take years before there are apples on the tree that you can eat. There can also be unexpected consequences from actions, not all of which will be welcome.

    Once upon a time most of the early childhood (pre-school) raising was done by parents with support from family or friends. Kindergarten started at age five (perhaps four in some instances) and was only for a few hours a few days a week.

    Societies change and raising children has become devalued compared to other parts of our lives-work in particular. Virginia Trapscott writing in the Weekend Australian notes.

    “According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, a quarter of families with children under four have both parents engaged in paid work full time. That figure increases to 75 per cent of families with children under 15, almost double the rate of dual-income families in the 1990s. The increase in paid work hours performed by a family unit, mostly out of necessity, has encroached on the hours they have available outside of work”.

    Trapscott bemoans that fact that the response to societal factors has been for government to hold inquiries and look to expand formal childcare rather than look into reasons as to why parents may not be able to care for their own children – especially at an early age. Three major reports over the last six years concluded that we need to support parents to parent.

    There are, of course, many reasons why parents seek childcare with economic ones being at or near the top. Most of the discussions around childcare focus on support for parents to work rather than what is best for the child. Throwing more money into the sector is seen as the solution. However, no matter how much formal training a childcare worker has, this person will not become the child’s parent and neither can the same level of attention be given in a centre compared with a home.

    What never seems to get any airplay is the notion of tax relief for a parent staying at home. In other words instead of government throwing money at providers to subsidise the expense incurred by parents who need to work, how about letting the parents keep more of their own money.

    There are two obvious advantages to this model which could offer another option to parents. Before you all scream, I accept that it will not work for everyone nor will it appeal to everyone.

    The two advantages are firstly it enables a parent to spend more time with their child. This could equally apply if the person caring for the child is the biological parent or not. There are benefits to both child and parent. The second is that is a less expensive option. Rather than collect more tax, send it through a separate department and then send subsidy to either the parent or centre, you simply leave the money where it started – with the parent(s). It is also, over time a less expensive model as there would be less need for new buildings and lest be honest, parent care is less costly than running a childcare facility. And that is quite aside from a parent being (in the vast majority of instances) the best person to care for their child.

    However, the simplicity is what will see it rejected as it reduces the role of government in people’s lives and reduces the number of bureaucrats needed. It also is potentially non PC in an era where children can be seen as property of the state.

    It is not a perfect world and no system is perfect. Some people are not fit to be parents. There is no absolute one size fits all. However, the best environment for a young child is with two parents who love and nurture the child. We need systems and policies which support rather than impede this.

    This article was originally published on Dr Joe Kosterich’s blog, June 19, 2023

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