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A brilliant piece of commentary in this opening analogy of the Oz editorial this morning. Even a boneheaded Labor spokesman for Education like Tania Plibersek could get her head around it if she applied her mind.

“…The problem could be set in a maths, economics or accounting test.

Question: Tony and Malcolm, supported by Bill and Tanya, borrow $3 billion over three years and invest it for a negligible return. Assuming all other variables remained constant, what would be the anticipated return if Bill and Tanya borrowed $37bn over 10 years and invested it?

Answer: An even higher deficit.

Political science and public relations students could then be asked: Why would they bother? Acceptable answers to that question might be “to be seen to do something rather than nothing”, “to appease teachers unions” or even “to re-enact The Emperor’s New Clothes”.

After the Coalition spent an extra $3bn, borrowed on behalf of taxpayers since 2013, this year’s National Assessment Program — Literacy and Numeracy results set out the return. Reading scores increased by just 0.40 per cent, writing scores fell by 0.20 per cent and numeracy increased by 1.26 per cent. Advocates of increasing funding even more argue that it takes longer than three years for the benefits of extra resources to be reflected in results. The weakness of that claim, however, is that while federal and state school funding has doubled in the past two decades, comparative results have fallen back against those of successful Asian and other systems.

While it’s easier said than done, Education Minister Simon Birmingham is on the right track when he says the education system must focus on evidence-based measures that will improve results. The opposition, in contrast, would fail the questions at the start of this editorial.

Post-election, when Bill Shorten transferred prospective deputy prime minister Tanya Plibersek from the foreign affairs to education shadow portfolio, he said the move was “about putting a great policy thinker on the political frontline”. The Opposition Leader wanted to put better schools at the top of Labor’s agenda because “there are few issues as critical to our nation’s future prosperity than education”. We could not agree more. Year after year, as too many students leave school with mediocre and substandard literacy and numeracy skills, their chances of success in further education, employment and business are curtailed — in many cases severely. So is their potential productivity and the chances of them contributing to the nation as lifters rather than leaners.

Despite years of worthwhile initiatives from both sides of politics — national testing (which was opposed bitterly, initially, by teachers unions), improved accountability and reporting, curriculum reform and extra funding, provided by both major parties since the Gonski review — the latest NAPLAN scores prove money alone is no panacea.

After years of concern about our school performance, there is no lack of evidence about what works in teacher training and selection, curriculum, classroom methods and discipline. Students deserve better than another three years of pointless wrangling about funding. Governments and oppositions should focus on what works and how to apply it…”