Melbourne Institute Economic and Social Outlook Conference 2012

The Melbourne Institute’s Economic and Social Outlook Conference (November 1-2) presentations are now up on their website. Here’s the links for the health, schools and homelessness sessions, the rest can be found here. You can get a .pdf of the slides for many of the presentations and I’ve included links for mp3 downloads. Enjoy.

Will health reform work? This year has seen major changes to hospital funding and performance management. How will these reforms affect service delivery and deal with the costs? Is there more that needs to be done?


Professor James Angus AO, Dean, Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences, The University of Melbourne


Professor Stephen Leeder AO, Professor of Public Health and Community Medicine, School of Public Health and Director, Menzies Centre for Health Policy, The University of Sydney – View presentation

Professor Anthony Scott, Professorial Research Fellow, Melbourne Institute – View presentation

Dr Tony Sherbon, Acting Chief Executive Officer, Independent Hospital Pricing Authority – View presentation

School education
David Gonski had reported, Julia Gillard has replied and the coalition is up in arms. What is the way forward for school reform?


Adjunct Professor Alison McClelland, Commissioner, Productivity Commission


Ms Lisa Paul AO PSM, Secretary, Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations

Mr Richard Bolt, Victorian Secretary, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development

Associate Professor Chris Ryan, Director, Economics of Education and Child Development, Melbourne Institute – View presentation

We were the last rich nation standing during what the rest of the world called the Great Recession. But our macro success masks deep-seated social problems. Has there been any progress in reducing homelessness? What more can be done to assist our most vulnerable citizens?Chair:

Mr Robert Fitzgerald AM, Commissioner, Productivity Commission


The Hon Mary Wooldridge MP, Minister for Mental Health, Women’s Affairs and Community Services

Dr Rosanna Scutella, Senior Research Fellow, Melbourne Institute – View presentation

Mr Tony Nicholson, Executive Director, Brotherhood of St Laurence

Coming up…

My plans to be one of those prolific bloggers able to prepare hard hitting policy analysis every month without fail came unstuck this month. This is the result of a job interview process (at my current employer) followed by the necessity to finish a report so that I could keep said job. Have no fear, this will be remedied later in November as I dip my toes into the controversial issue of teacher quality and performance pay.

I had initially planned to broaden the categories with a post on drug policy after being underwhelmed by this report. I’ve also recently developed an interest in teenage mothers (as an area of policy interest I assure you) but this piece on the Drum by Jane Caro, in response to some colorful language on the topic from the Executive Director of the Go8 earlier this month, got me thinking. Attracting high quality school leavers to teaching might not be rocket science but from what I’ve read it’s far from straight forward.

This Week: Kids and Drugs

The Kids Are Alright: The Transgenerational Impact of Problematic Drug and Alcohol Use
Angela Ireland Self Help Addiction Resource Centre
Marg Quon Family Drug Help
Elizabeth McCrea The Mirabel Foundation
Kerri Felemonow Women’s Alcohol and Drug Service
10:00am to 3:30pm October 3 2012 – 49-63 Princes Street Traralgon – GippsTAFE Academy
Register at Anex

Class Size, Test Scores and Earnings: Are Smaller Class Sizes Good Public Policy?

This debate over class size raises some important questions. For instance what is the impact of class size on the educational outcomes of Australian children? How do class size reductions compare with other educational reforms in terms of their cost effectiveness? It turns out we know very little about how class size influences student learning in Australia so in this post I’ll take a look at what some of the better research from the US has to say about the effectiveness of reductions in class size.

The main challenge faced by researchers in trying to figure out whether small class sizes have a positive impact on educational outcomes is that the children we observe in small classes may not be representative of all children. Recent work by  Louise Watson and Chris Ryan suggest that the student-teacher ratio (which as it turns out is a different thing to class size) in Independent schools have fallen relative to Government schools over the last 20 years in Australia. They also show how the socio-economic status of Government school students has declined over this period relative to children in Independent schools. If it is the case that those children enrolled at well funded Independent schools have parents with greater means and/or a greater willingness to invest in the education of their children inside the home, we may find these children to have better educational outcomes for reasons that have nothing to do with class size. The same might be true if the higher socio-economic status of a child’s classmates conferred upon them some positive peer-effect in their learning or if Independent schools had other characteristics (higher quality teachers, better facilities) that improved child outcomes independent of class size.

This isn’t necessarily a problem if educational researchers had data on all of these influences and were able to use statistical methods to control for them. The trouble is this usually isn’t the case. The only way we can untangle the causal effect of class size is to rely on policy experiments such as those conducted in the US. To date no such experimental evidence exists for Australia. Continue reading

The Debate Over Class Size: Is Smaller Better?

In July Chris Pyne, shadow spokesperson for Education, Apprenticeships and Training, kicked off a debate about class size. First in an interview on Lateline then in a column in The Australian. The ABC coverage and some words from Angelo Gavrielatos from the Australian Education Union can be found here and you can see Chris Pyne and Jane Caro go head-to-head on QandA here (the action kicks off 11 minutes in). Despite Pyne’s efforts to broaden the education policy debate to include measures such as principal autonomy and improving teacher quality this wasn’t always how his comments were reported. No doubt this debate will gain momentum in the lead-up to the next election.