A new report has raised serious concerns about the increasing commercialisation of schooling in Australia, including the ethics of private companies having access to student data.
The NSW Teachers Federation (NSWTF) report – titled: Commercialisation in public schooling: An Australian Study – involved 2,200 educators from across Australia.
According to the data, almost 60% of responses argued against commercialisation, or at least expressed concern about the quality of commercial products and services.
Most commonly cited was the unease teachers felt when “forced” to implement commercial programs in their classrooms to align with the broader strategic objectives of their school.
Many expressed that they voiced their concerns to their principals but were often ignored.
“We are made to test our students on PAT-R tests [Progressive Achievement Test – Reading] when the creators [ACER] obviously have no ability to understand what is needed for students to have the best opportunity to achieve,” said one respondent.
“PAT-R ignores educational research, students [even better readers] get tired and give up and guess answers half way through the tests. Yet, we have to collect this data, put it into One-School and we are asked why our data is not improving.”
The teacher said that when PAT-R was first introduced, they voiced their concern to the principal, who thanked them for expressing it, but nothing changed.
Similarly, other teachers highlighted they had taken their concerns about tests that did not appropriately align with the achievement standards of the Australian Curriculum straight to the commercial provider, only to be dismissed at this level as well.
Another respondent noted:
“I feel these publishers, as multi-national companies, show little regard for producing quality materials that relate to the Australian Curriculum and simply provide a generic product composed from materials prepared for education systems in other countries.”
‘Big data’ paving way for corporatisation
The report pointed out that data infrastructures have become more important in the structuring and governance of schooling systems and enabled the growing involvement of private commercial interests.
“The move to big data in the work of schools and schooling systems will also open up further opportunities for edu-businesses, particularly in terms of computer-based assessments and adaptive learning technologies,” the report’s authors stated.
“The increased role of private companies and edu-businesses in respect of these various changes has resulted, to some extent, from the down-sizing and restructuring of the state bureaucracy, first under new public management and more recently through network governance”.
The report said the “reduced capacity of the state” has opened up spaces and opportunities for edu-businesses to expand their role in schools and schooling systems, “largely on a for-profit basis”.
NSWTF president, Maurie Mulheron, pointed to the proliferation of influential think-tanks and foundations that are flag-bearers for the profits to be made from “neoliberal ideology” – specifically, the billions of dollars being made from schooling.
Mulheron told The Educator that this ideology is driving the incursion of edu-business into all levels of schooling, from teaching to textbooks to testing.
“Why is education such easy prey? Because everyone has to send their children to schools. Schools are always there – it’s a gravy train for life,” he said.
“We will never do well at NAPLAN because Pearson [the edu-business organisation which runs the tests] will lose in selling a product as a solution.”
Pearson has been contacted for comment.