Governing by numbers: the construction and publicity of deficit metrics in Indigenous education

Tuesday, 21 March 2017
Dr Kerry McCallum
Tess Ryan
Dr Michelle Dunne Breen
Dr Jo Caffery

This paper interrogates the concept of 'deficit metrics' and its pervasive effect on Indigenous education. Indigenous education in Australia is regularly viewed through a perspective of failure and deficiency. Subsequent Australian governments have developed complex systems of testing and public display of educational data to compare student performance. One important site of representation of these ‘deficit metrics’ (Sullivan 2013) is through the collation and publication on the My Schools website of student achievement in the NAPLAN (National Assessment Program – Literacy and Numeracy) testing program. The release of such ‘big data’ through the MySchools website provides journalists with a ready source of ‘hard’ news about Indigenous educational performance. Fed into journalistic routines and norms, news media reporting contributes to the construction of a discourse of failure surrounding the education of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children. Frame analysis of news media coverage of MySchools and NAPLAN from 2012-16 is used to identify and critique the routine, enduring and contested frames in the representation of Indigenous educational performance. The paper concludes that educational authorities and news media work together to perpetuate a discourse that defines Indigenous educational outcomes in terms of failure and deficiency.