Our schools are failing our kids in maths and reading
Australia's schools systems are failing our students with a major new international report showing we are falling years behind the rest of the world in literacy and numeracy.
Australian students are about a year behind in key subjects with our scores in reading, maths, and science dropping to Australia's lowest since testing began, according to the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA).
For the first time Australia has failed to meet the OECD average in maths and was one of seven countries, including Finland, Iceland, Korea, the Netherlands, New Zealand and the Slovak Republic, that saw declining metrics across all three subjects.
Australia's education sector is in shock with experts calling on governments to recognise the report as "the line in the sand."
Record Gonski funding has failed to lift standards while a crisis in teacher shortages is forcing teachers to teach outside their specialist subject - without the necessary qualifications.
An overcrowded curriculum has also caused educators to only have time to teach to the middle.
The Australian version of the report is produced by the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) and PISA National Project Manager, ACER Deputy CEO (Research) Dr Sue Thomson said the biggest surprise was that Australia has not beaten the OECD average for maths.
"For me that is a line in the sand. I don't want to be reporting next time we are below the OECD average. There are a number of countries that have improved while we have not improved."
Czech Republic, Estonia, Macao (China), Switzerland and Belgium were behind Australia in the original report in 2000 and are now outperforming us in maths.
Our maths performance is down in all states and territories, with significant declines observed in SA, NSW, Tasmania, WA and the ACT, and the smallest decline recorded in Victoria.
Dr Thomson said Australia should be looking now to learn from other countries and reassess where funding is going.
"It is about where that money goes and what it is doing. We have a crowded curriculum, teachers don't have enough time to make sure students are developing that deep understanding they need."
She added the increase in out-of-field teachers means teachers are only teaching from the textbook. She referenced a PE teacher being asked to teach maths.
"He was one chapter ahead of the students at all times - if you don't have the understanding yourself it is much harder to pick up the weaker kids and help scaffold them. And you can't give the high performing kids the work they need."
Dr Thomson said that impact was reflected in the PISA results with the increase in lower and average performers and a drop in high performers.
A recent study from the Australian Mathematical Sciences Institute found 22 per cent of Australian year 8 students are currently being taught by out-of-field teachers, compared to an international average of 13 per cent.
More than 600,000 15 year old students in 79 countries and economies took part in PISA 2018, including 14,273 Australian students in 740 schools. In contrast to NAPLAN, which tests skills, PISA looks at how the students can apply their reading, maths, science lessons to real life.
The countries that topped the charts included grouped provinces of Beijing, Shanghai, Jiangsu and Zhejiang (China) and Singapore, which scored significantly higher in reading than all other countries. Estonia, Canada, Finland and Ireland were the highest-performing OECD countries in reading.
In comparison to Beijing - Shanghai - Jiangsu - Zhejiang (China), Australian students performed at a level roughly one-and-a-half school years lower in reading literacy, around three-and-a-half school years lower in mathematical literacy, and around three years lower in scientific literacy.
Sinking more funding into the system is not the answer, experts say, pointing to the $18 billion that has been spent and insiders said that schools don't know how best to spend their money.
Glenn Fahey, Centre for independent Studies, said PISA has provided further evidence that there is no association between funding and better achievement.
"We have NAPLAN, we have had several years of Gonski, we now have PISA and we are still not seeing that education return," Mr Fahey said, also pointing to the enormous amounts of money being spent on STEM programs, in the face of sliding maths and science scores.
"And a large part of the increase money has been soaked up on spending on staffing and support staff, more admin in schools to deal with the increased burden of paperwork."
Grattan's Institute Peter Goss argues that teacher wages and an increase in student numbers has meant public schools have not had a real increase in funding but that there is Gonski money coming into government schools in the next decade.
"The challenge is to ensure that it gets spent in ways that do contribute to turning this picture around."
Experts are calling on the federal government to learn from international schools but Minister for Education Dan Tehan said the government was still on track to implement Gonski 2.0 reforms, in particular around learning progressions, that they hoped would lift standards.
"Australia's results in the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) tests are very disappointing, especially in mathematics and science. These results should have alarm bells ringing," he said.
Opposition Minister for Education Tanya Plibersek was appalled.
"Australian schoolkids just aren't getting the basics under their belts anymore. If our kids can't read, write, and do maths and science, then we've failed."