Difference between schools in California and Australia

By Karina Rook

I’m often asked about the quality of schools in the Valley, and how they compare to schools in Australia. My opinion on this has changed from my first experiences of the schools here. Now that we feel more settled, and some of the emotion has been removed from the equation, I can be more objective about the differences in education.

One difficulty we faced when comparing schools was that both kids were in primary school (elementary school here) when in Victoria, but are now both in middle school, which is a more high school style environment.


The schools here are poor, so poor that kids get Wednesday afternoons off as the district can’t pay the teachers. So poor that parents pooled together to create a fundraising organization, School-Force, to help keep the schools open and offer music and art. Aside from state-level funding, districts also get funds for specific projects by a bonds issue, approved by ballot from community members. Local property taxes are also used to fund local schools.  So if you live in a school district where there are many school-aged children, chances are higher that you’ll have sports equipment, comfortable buildings, and landscaping at your school.

If you’re into the numbers and pretty pie charts, here’s a great summary for our district: http://schoolforce.org/wp-content/uploads/BRSSD-How-Funded-How-Used-How-Allocated-Aug-29.pdf


In middle school, there is no play equipment, sun shades or cafeteria. You eat lunch at a bench, or sit on the concrete, then play on the field or just hang around and talk to friends. All in the 40 minutes allocated to lunchtime.  Every morning the Pledge of Allegiance is chanted and you have to push and shove to move down the corridors to get to class. You get to wear casual clothes, but don’t take too long choosing your outfit in the morning, as school starts at 8:15am. Don’t wear short dresses/skirts/shorts, no underwear showing please, no gang colors, no baseball caps worn anyway except forward, no hats inside, no bandanas and no singlet straps or bare shoulders (straps must be over 1 inch wide).

The school dance and various fund-raising days provide some fun for the kids, and my daughter has access to a good library at lunchtime and after school.


A wide curriculum is offered and my kids are enjoying the science experiments and history discussions. My daughter is doing a class on story animation, and attends art class daily. My son is highly engaged in his Powerpoint class, and has personal goals set for running a mile in gym class, which he tries to achieve in his daily exercise time at school.

A second language, Mandarin, is only offered in grade 7 onwards, and students need to opt-in to music lessons, drama and computer science programs as electives.


Only two reports are issued each year, and provide very little description of your child. It is simply a grade for subjects, with no opportunity for teacher or parent communication on the report itself. All parent-teacher interviews have to be requested by parents, unless your child has performed badly.

Grades are everything, and my kids are marked on class work, homework, pop quizzes and regular tests on each chapter of the textbook they are using. You earn marks for neatness, organization, attendance, and not using your bathroom pass. You are rewarded for listening attentively and following instructions strictly – inventiveness, proactiveness and assertiveness are discouraged.

If your child misses a class, it is up to them to catch up. If they miss a test, they need to book an appointment with the teacher to sit the test over lunchtime. If they simply don’t understand the material being taught, it is up to them and you, as parents, to explain the concepts and some textbooks come with websites containing videos of a teacher explaining the lesson. Yes, my daughter taught herself long division using You Tube.

The common denominator between the schools in both countries is the quality of the teachers. I have seen genuine passion, empathy and professionalism from the teachers in California. They are qualified educators, and generally, my kids speak about them with great admiration.