Anecdotally, students are struggling financially

A while ago I remember former Education Minister (now ‘defence man walking’) Brendan Nelson telling a group of assembled teachers that parents were demanding plain language reports because they’d emailed and phoned his office to tell him. No evidence whatsoever to support that wildly anecdotal claim.

Now, we have the current minister doubting the results of a new survey that found that (tertiary) student poverty had worsened over the past decade, basically suggesting that the students lied.

Nice, coming from someone in charge of education to have that attitude to the constituents! And, that the report was anecdotal. Seems that anecdotes are enough to change some policies, but not others.

The AGE report said:

Federal Education Minister Julie Bishop has challenged the validity of a survey that found student poverty has worsened dramatically this decade. In an interview with The Age, Ms Bishop described a report by lobby group Universities Australia – which found nearly one in four undergraduates took out loans last year to cover basic living costs – as “very anecdotal”, and questioned whether students answered truthfully.

“I know what I would have said if I were a student,” she said. “I just think that we can do better in terms of getting an evidence-based report. But I accept as a matter of principle that we’ve got to focus on students’ ability to study at university.”


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Teacher in space

Endeavour, carrying parts for the international space station as well as teacher Barbara Morgan, lifts off.

It’s been 21 years since the Challenger disaster but it was great to see another teacher return to space in the NASA space shuttle mission launched this week. The recognition that, along with scientists, engineers and mathematicians, that a teacher might be ‘worthy’ is good to see, and a good message from the program.

NASA’s space shuttle Endeavour has put the first teacher into space 21 years after the Challenger explosion tragically ended the dream of another pioneering teacher.

Teacher-turned-astronaut Barbara Morgan, 55, yesterday became the star of the second shuttle mission to the international space station this year when Endeavour began its first mission since 2002.

Full report HERE

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National curriculum would marginalise children

Don’t quite know why we need overseas experts to tell us, but good to see someone at least taking the other viewpoint; that, far from being natural and inevitable, national curriculum might alienate (and marginalise) teachers and students.  Maybe, once again, it’s more politics than good education policy.

US Professor Michael Apple says:

“What you get is a formula for disaster – alienated students who are in boring didactic instruction, teachers who feel as if they’ve lost control and have become alienated themselves, many of the most creative teachers then leaving the profession.”

The full article from the ABC is HERE

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Merit pay for dentists

This arrived in my email this week from a teacher in another school. Considering I’ve been posting about this for a while now, I thought I should include it:

Merit Pay for Dentists?

My dentist is great! He sends me reminders so I don’t forget checkups. He uses the latest techniques based on research. He never hurts me, and I’ve got all my teeth.

When I ran into him the other day, I was eager to see if he’d heard about the Federal Government’s latest program for improving the dental health of our children by introducing performance pay for dentists.

“Did you hear about the new federal program to measure effectiveness of dentists with their young patients?” I asked.

“No,” he said. He didn’t seem too thrilled. “How will they do that?”

“It’s quite simple,” I answered. “They will just count the number of cavities each patient has at Grades 3, 5, 7, 9, and average that to determine a dentist’s rating. Dentists will be rated as excellent, good, average, below average, and unsatisfactory. That way parents will know who are the best dentists. The plan will also encourage the less effective dentists to get better,” I said. “Poor dentists who don’t improve could lose their licenses to practice.”

“That’s terrible,” he replied.

“What? That’s not a good attitude,” I said. “Don’t you think we should try to improve children’s dental health in this country?”

“Sure I do, but that’s not a fair way to determine who is practising good dentistry.”

“Why not?” I asked. “It makes perfect sense to me.”

“Well, it’s so obvious,” he said. “Don’t you see that dentists don’t all work with the same clientele, and that much depends on things we can’t control? For example, I work in a rural area with a high percentage of patients from deprived homes, while some of my colleagues work in upper middle-class neighborhoods. Many of the parents I work with don’t bring their children to see me until there is some kind of problem, and I don’t get to do much preventive work. Also, many of the parents I serve let their kids eat way too much sweet food from an early age, unlike more educated parents who understand the relationship between sugar and decay. To top it all off, so many of my clients have tank water which is untreated and has no fluoride in it. Do you have any idea how much difference early use of fluoride can make?”

“It sounds like you’re making excuses. I can’t believe that you would be so defensive. After all, you do a great job, and you needn’t fear a little accountability.”

“I am not being defensive!” he said. “My best patients are as good as anyone’s, my work is as good as anyone’s, but my average cavity count is going to be higher than a lot of other dentists’ because I chose to work where I am needed most.”

“Don’t’ get touchy,” I said.

“Touchy?” he said. His face had turned red, and from the way he was clenching and unclenching his jaws, I was afraid he was going to damage his teeth. “Try furious! In a system like this, I will end up being rated average, below average, or worse. The few educated patients I have who see these ratings may believe this so-called rating is an actual measure of my ability and proficiency as a dentist. They may leave me, and I’ll be left with only the most needy patients. And my cavity average score will get even worse. On top of that, how will I attract good dental hygienists and other excellent dentists to my practice if it is labeled below average?”

“I think you are overreacting,” I said. “‘Complaining, excuse-making and stonewalling won’t improve dental health’… I am quoting from a leading member of the DOC,” I noted.

“What’s the DOC?” he asked.

“It’s the Dental Oversight Committee, a group made up of mostly lay persons, chaired by a Federal Politician who used to be a lawyer to make sure dentistry in this country gets improved.”

“Spare me! I can’t believe this. Reasonable people won’t buy it,” he said hopefully

The program sounded reasonable to me, so I asked, “How else would you measure good dentistry?”

“Come watch me work,” he said. “Observe my processes.”

“That’s too complicated, expensive and time-consuming,” I said. “Cavities are the bottom line, and you can’t argue with the bottom line. It’s an absolute measure.”

“That’s what I’m afraid my parents and prospective patients will think. This can’t be happening,” he said despairingly.

“Now, now,” I said, “don’t despair. The Federal government will help you some.”

“How?” he asked.

If you receive a poor rating, they’ll send a dentist who is rated excellent to help straighten you out,” I said brightly.

“You mean,” he said, “they’ll send a dentist with a wealthy clientele to show me how to work on severe juvenile dental problems with which I have probably had much more experience? BIG HELP!”

“There you go again,” I said. “You aren’t acting professionally at all.”

“You don’t get it,” he said. “Doing this would be like grading schools and teachers on an average score made on a test of children’s progress with no regard to influences outside the school, the home, the community served and stuff like that. Why would they do something so unfair to dentists? No one would ever think of doing that to schools.”

I just shook my head sadly, but he had brightened.

“I’m going to write my representatives and senators,” he said. “I’ll use the school analogy. Surely they will see the point.”

NSW Schools to ‘transform’ education

Students at Stratford Public School in NSW work on their smart whiteboard.

Report from the AGE today that the NSW State Government will install 200 high-tech digital whiteboards in NSW public schools, thus ‘transform[ing] the way education is delivered’, according to the report.

At least the accompanying photograph shows students working with the technology rather than the usual visual of a teacher flipping around maths objects to the general shock and awe of the student audience. Note the language; education is ‘delivered’, I suppose students pick it up at reception and sign for it from the courier.

One principal is quoted as saying that IWBs were: ‘”possibly the best teaching tool we’ve
ever had”.

The article states:

The interactive whiteboards, along with video-conferencing technology and e-learning tools, will take up $28 million of tomorrow’s 2007-08 state budget.

 In the western NSW region, 168 of the 202 schools there already ave at least one interactive whiteboard, according to the NSW Department of Education and Training.

Full report HERE

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Performance Pay Deserves an F

I think this letter to the AGE today pretty well sums up my view on this one too. I’d just come out of a Year 11 English class discussing the analysis of language of the media and saying that whenever someone says something like ‘Pretty much everyone agrees..’ you should sit up and be suspicious!  As I blogged earlier, and as Ian Hundley says: pay all teachers more for starters.

THE headline “Everyone agrees, it’s a matter of how to reward great teachers” (The Age, 15/6) misses the point. The fact is that teachers, as a whole, are systematically underpaid for the work they do.

Julie Bishop has latched on to a report by the US Centre for Quality Teaching to support her proposal for performance pay. The report may be noteworthy because the authors have teaching experience. It doesn’t follow that they know how performance pay works in practice.

Performance pay has been much reviewed in many industries over many years and has been found to be a bad idea for most occupational groups. The 52-page US report does not review any of these studies.

Performance pay for teachers deserves an F rating.

Ian Hundley, North Balwyn


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Rewarding teachers

Today’s article on performance based based pay by AGE education editor Farah Tomazin makes pretty good sense, despite a pretty broad basic assumption that performance based pay is, in fact, a good thing in itself. That’s debatable in the educational context I’d say.  I did like this bit from the article:

There is no doubt about the need to offer successful teachers incentives to stay in the classroom, but the unanswered question has always been: how do you determine who the “good” teachers are.

For a start, teachers work in teams to improve students’ results. Then there is the fact that schools are socio-economically complex places. This makes it impossible to compare the performance of a teacher in, say, a middle-class, eastern suburban school with that of a teacher in a poorer western suburbs school.

Nor is student improvement easy to define: sometimes it’s as much of a challenge to keep students engaged in learning as it is to boost their grades.

This is a conundrum that is difficult to resolve and the Federal Government’s approach to the issue has been flawed.

Full article HERE

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Performance Pay for Teachers

The ABC reports today that the Federal Government plans to push ahead with a trial of performance pay for teachers despite a lack of evidence that it will actually work (in improving learning) and with a woeful lack of understanding of the complexities involved. My fear is that the Federal Opposition will play tweedle-dum and also propose some kind of performance based proposal of their own.

My proposal is pay ALL teachers more; teacher salaries have slipped considerably over the last 20 years.

The ABC reports:

A trial of performance-based pay for school teachers could be up and running by next year.

The Federal Government has already warned the states it intends to tie funding to the introduction of some performance pay for teachers.

Teachers are currently paid according to years worked.

The Federal Government is commissioning a group of experts to report on how to set up the trial, and federal Education Minister Julie Bishop says the move will improve teaching standards.

“I believe that performance pay will reward our best teachers and attract more talented people into the teaching profession,” she said.

“Accordingly our children will benefit from a higher quality education.”
Ms Bishop says she hopes teachers will support the trial, and says she has consulted teachers about it..

“I’ve had many conversations with individual teachers and associations and parent associations and school associations,” she said.

“I think most people agree that we need to come up with ways to attract more people into the teaching profession to retain them and reward teachers who are achieving impressive outcomes for their students.”

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Suitability to teach

Victorian Institute of Teaching

Oh the mixed messages. A couple of months ago I was critical here of the new draft Code of Conduct coming out of the Victorian Institute of Teaching and there I was a week or so at work arguing for it as a balanced document that represented the profession.

But does the VIT represent the profession or administer and constrain them? Where has the VIT been in representing teachers in the ‘pay as you earn A+s’ pseudo debate that’s been going politically? (Is it a debate if both sides of politics are falling over themselves endorsing it?) And where has the VIT been in getting the voice of the profession into the educational mud-slinging that’s only going to increase as the election gets closer?

However, they haven’t been totally inactive! Today I received a letter and a brochure telling me that later this year I’m going to have apply to continue to be registered as a teacher and ‘make declarations related to (my) continued suitability to teach’!  Great to hear they’re not just sitting around!

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Best teachers push up pupils’ scores

I’ve no doubt that good teachers make a big difference, the biggest difference, in student achievement and the importance of getting to the classroom teacher as a significant agent of change is a recent epiphany for me!

However, this report from the AGE today sounds a bit like a fierce dinner conversation I had the other night about the the complexities in the teaching and learning context that make simplistic cause and effect statements dangerous.

Economist (of course) Andrew Leigh makes his case based on ‘test scores from one exam to the next’, an important but hardly the only measure of student achievement or even real learning, who’s ever heard of teachers ‘teaching to the test’ before? And a measure that takes no account of anything else that’s going on.

My disagreement over dinner the other night was about the application of simple KPIs to teacher jobs, esp. in terms of efficiency (how many students) or outcomes (what scores) I liked the recent comments by Ingvarson (ACER) I heard where he argued for us to reward ‘good teaching’ not ‘successful teaching’.

On the other hand Andrew Leigh seems to see it as a kind of race to the finish, you’ll note the ‘productivity’ word in all this.

“In terms of raising literacy and numeracy scores, the top 10 per cent of teachers achieve in half a year what the bottom 10 per cent achieve in a full year,” said Dr Leigh, an economist at the Australian National University.

He said the pay structure, which rewards teachers solely on the basis of qualifications and experience, did not take the productivity of teachers into account.

“Assuming test score gains are an important measure of educational output, these results suggest it may be worth considering alternative salary structures as a means of attracting and retaining the best teachers,” his report said.

You can read the full article HERE

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