Page 2866 - Week 08 - Tuesday, 5 August 2008

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The increasing adulation of the Canberra Times of Labor’s education policy has kept pace only with the growing drift from the public school sector to the non-government school sector. Perhaps that is exceeded only by the declining circulation of the Canberra Times. This territory needs scrutiny of the education policy, and the Canberra Times is asleep. Perhaps they are overwhelmed by all that chardonnay that they are drinking with you there, Mr Barr.

Let me also refer to project STAR, another compelling piece of work which really underpins the usefulness of the small class strategy. Project STAR—an acronym for student-teacher achievement ratio—was designed by a group of researchers led by Dr Helen Pate-Bain and took place in Tennessee, USA, between 1985 and 1989. It was the first major, randomised study of smaller class sizes and monitoring of student outcomes, and it continued for some years after their passage through the primary school system. So the project followed a cohort of students.

In the first phase of the STAR project, students from kindergarten to grade 3 were randomly assigned to one of three experimental conditions: small class sizes, 13 to 17 pupils; regular class sizes, 22 to 25 students; or regular class sizes with a teacher’s aide. Teachers were also randomly assigned between small and regular class sizes. The study involved more than 11,600 students. That is a pretty large sample group. The controls for this project were as follows: new teachers were assigned to each class each year in both small and regular class sizes. Special textbooks or curriculums were not allowed to be introduced during the study. Members should take note of those conditions. The second phase of the Tennessee class size study, which was called the lasting benefits study, did not feature a new intervention but, rather, it continued the evaluation by observing the school performance of the participating students over time after they resumed elementary school under normal conditions in fourth grade and beyond.

That project went on, and it had remarkable outcomes. In fact, long-term follow-up studies found that, by the end of eighth grade, students who had attended small classes for all four years of STAR outperformed their counterparts who had attended regular sized classes by an average of 14 months of schooling in reading, 13 months of schooling in maths and 13 months of schooling in science. Those are big gaps, and it is there on the record. I would suggest to Mr Barr that, if he is really serious about exercising his duty of care to provide the best learning environments for our students, he should have a look at this project. This is a pretty substantial project, and it underpins the outcomes of moving kids into smaller classes. It really is terribly, terribly important.

What is our policy going to be? The Liberal policy is this, should we become the government: all young children in years K to 6 will be in classes reduced to a maximum of 21 students. This means that many classes will be reduced by up to a third of their current size. Labor says that we have to choose between investing in teacher quality or smaller classes. They cannot chew gum and walk at the same time, can they, but the Canberra Liberals are committed to doing both. We are committed to investigating in teacher quality and we are committed to investing in small class sizes.

The $34.7 million package includes the following: $24.7 million for smaller classes in primary school; $7.5 million for more teachers for high schools; and $2.75 million for

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