50 Lines

I promise not to comment on the state of the education debate in the current election campaign.

I promise not to comment on the state of the education debate in the current election campaign.

I promise not to comment on the state of the education debate in the current election campaign.


But I can’t stop myself saying that in the ‘great debate’ Prime Minister Guillard named as her greatest achievement, the ‘myschool’ website. Sighs.

That’s all I have to say about that…

Why not instead finally acknowledge that standardized test scores are a terrible way to decide whether one school is better than another? This is true whether the reform in question is vouchers, charter schools, increased school accountability, smaller class sizes, better pay for all teachers, bonuses for good teachers, firing of bad teachers — measured by changes in test scores, each has failed to live up to its hype.

From the NY Times today

Australian Teacher

I’ve read Australian Teacher magazine one and off for a couple of years now, mainly because it’s stacked conveniently next to the copies of The Age and The Herald-Sun at the bottom of the lift well, which I pass ever morning.

I’d pick up the student newspaper too and take a stack of both to my Year 12 English class.  Funnily enough, the students in my class were more interested in the teacher magazine than the student one; I think because the student version is aimed more at middle school students and some of my students were keen on doing a teaching degree.

But, I was interested to see in the latest issue of Australian Teacher that it seemed to be taking a  more editorial approach, with more opinion articles than I remember, including two very different approaches to the issue of cyber-bullying: a report on research by Professor Donna Cross that ‘based on evidence … the harms from cyber-bullying will be far greater than face-to-face bullying’ and a different approach from Ken Rigby from the University fo South Australia who argued that the evidence does not support the view that bullying is on the rise.

There was also news that the AEU had purchased the domain name ourschool.net.au and intended setting up an alternative website the government’s myschool site, and one that recognised a broader range of student and school achievement.  However, move on along, nothing to look at there  yet folks!

League tables reach new lows

The Australian newspaper today took the NAPLAN testing to league tables to new lows today when it published a list of the Top 100 Schools in Australia based on the NAPLAN results from last year. Just a couple of weeks before this  year’s students are due to sit their NAPLAN tests, the Australian upped the ante, following its News Limited stable-mate The Herald-Sun, who earlier published front page news on ‘How Your School Ranks‘. At the same as the AEU has proposed boycotting the forthcoming tests because of the dangers of league tables and the simplistic judgements that follow, the timing of this article is pretty much designed to whip up as much interest and frenzy as possible.

The Australian article opens:

MONEY still buys the best education in Australia, with elite schools in NSW and Victoria dominating a list of the nation’s top 100 schools prepared exclusively by The Weekend Australian.

“C” for (Australian) Curriculum

From the AGE today a top Victorian educational bureaucrat grades the draft Australian Curriculum as ‘C’ standard. Mind you, that would be totally acceptable by VIctorian VELS standards.

Interestingly, David Howes’s main criticism was couched in terms of curriculum over-crowding and increasing expectations about what schools should have to teach. I liked the comment that Howes keeps a list of all the things he sees in politics and the media that are pushed into schools, from road safety to table manners, from reading a Rip to reading food labelling. My crtiticism of the Australian Curriculum has been differently focused (lack of local control = lack of relevance to specific cohorts) but I take the point about overcrowding. The piece says:

A VICTORIAN education chief has graded the draft national curriculum a ”C”, in a blunt assessment of the way schools will have to teach from next year.

In a critical appraisal, David Howes, general manager of curriculum at the Victorian Curriculum and Assessment Authority, warned of the risk of ”overcrowding” in the national curriculum, saying there were already increasing expectations of what schools should teach.

A recent example was of a school in Melbourne’s east whose year 9 students were learning table manners at a local TAFE, after the principal decided they had no idea how to conduct themselves at the table during a school camp.

The national curriculum, to be introduced from next year, will require indigenous perspectives, Australia’s engagement with Asia and a commitment to sustainable living to be part of every subject.

Mr Howes warned this risked overcrowding the curriculum.

”The way in which this is being designed and included in the curriculum is not a helpful one,” he told a seminar on Asian perspectives last week.

He said rather than singling out Australia’s engagement with Asia, the curriculum should talk about ”global competence”, which would mean important regions such as the Middle East were not forgotten.

He told the seminar he kept a list of all the times someone had said: ”Schools have to …”

Premier John Brumby had said there was not enough respect and school should teach it, Mr Howes said.

Many schools were running sessions on responsible pet care, following an RSPCA campaign, he said.

And there had been claims children had drowned because schools didn’t teach them how to read where rips were.

”Time is not an elastic phenomenon – we need to get consensus on what schools should be teaching,” Mr Howes said. ”Schools cannot do the lot.”

Rank schools, says the Herald-Sun

The Herald-Sun hasn’t waited long to get its teeth into the eduction debate about school achievement. The new MySchool website (which I blogged about late last year) was launched today, but it already doesn’t go far enough for the high standards of the Melbourne tabloid. I hope to talk more about this later, particularly Ms Gillard’s remarks that parents should ‘badger’ schools and teachers until they improve. Meanwhile,  I reprint today’s editorial in full below.

Rank schools to get results
THIS morning, subject to the vagaries of technology, parents will be given information to help them make one of the most important decisions in their lives: where to send their children to school.
Needless to say, it will also be one of the most important decisions in their children’s lives.
It comes as fees at private schools are increasing and more parents are considering whether to send their children to a public school.
But, cost aside, which school parents choose should be based on a range of priorities, which includes where a school ranks in academic performance.
The My School website will allow parents to make some comparisons between schools within their immediate area.
But it doesn’t go far enough. Many teachers and principals, as well as Education Minister Julia Gillard, think ranking schools will hurt underperforming schools.
The opposite is the case. Government and teachers must ensure these schools improve, not hide their inadequacies.
The argument that publishing so-called league tables will only stigmatise the poorer performing schools is a false one.
Comparing the nation’s schools would make the Government and education authorities accountable.
Parents themselves face an impossible task in forcing change at mediocre schools. They need to be able to point to the information provided by full disclosure of every school’s performance to demand improvement.
The information on the My School website today is a significant move in the right direction, but falls short of clearly ranking the nation’s 10,000 schools.

Identity Politics

Our school year generally starts with a keynote speaker of some kind on the day that staff first return for the planning and preparation before the students come back. One of the nice things is that the speakers often have a big picture focus, which transcends schools and education, but also connects up with what we’re doing in trying to educate young people.

Yesterday it was Waleed Ali who spoke to the staff about identity and politics from  his perspective as a lecturer in Politics at the Global Terrorism Centre of Monash University. He’s also a writer, broadcaster and media commentator, and Muslim. It seemed particularly appropriate to that Australia Day was just around the corner and as I drove home I couldn’t help noticing several carloads of young mean with Australian flags flying from their cars, announcing something about their identity.

Ali spoke to us about the politics of identity and the emergence of modern global terrorism in that context. A key point he made was that in his opinion the processes of globalisation (and global economies) aren’t going to lead to a world of cultural assimilation (he differs from Tapscott here I think) but the very opposite: a splintering of cultures and the proliferation of divergent identities, all relating to issues of social inclusion and identity.

He argued that the most important social resource we have is our identity, and that a persecuted identity gives you just about the most powerful identity you can have. So, that attempts to assimilate, to enforce Australian ‘values’ and to try to codify “Australianism” might have the opposite of its intended effect: will force people to make choices and take sides. He gave the example of the Australian identity debate around five years ago having that very effect.

His conclusion was that society needs to be able to sustain multiple authentic identities and he made an interesting point about the difference between how the USA and Australia treated difference. The Australian message, he argued, was ‘fit in’. The American message was ‘participate’.

It was an interesting and thought provoking address, with consequences for our own classrooms and our own treatment of individuals, even beyond international students, but has ripples for me for the rest of the day: watching the car loads of patriots, thinking about Australia Day and even watching Hewitt play tennis on television last night.

My School


It’s not written as a web 2.0 marketeer might put it; perhaps it would be “mySkoole”, lower case  in a nice pastel colour but this innocuous looking site will soon develop teeth. It’s the Federal Government’s answer to questions about transparency and accountability, and it’s a limited one word answer called ‘Tests’.  Look out for how the Herald-Sun translates this into league tables when it goes live. Oh, and Victoria will have one too.

My School

Teach to the test

Why is that our current governments, both state and federal, seem to look to the rest of the world for the very worst of educational practice? From NY to New Jersey the current government fad is accountability and transparency, but only in such a dumbed down way that we can use in a 6 second TV sound-bite.

This time round the State Government in Victoria is looking to link teacher pay with student performance in national tests for literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN). Students results would form part of a ‘scorecard’ (we all understand what a scorecard is, right?) that might lead to up to $7000 in bonus payments.

What could happen; teaching to the tests? (which are narrow, shallow and statistically dubious)

Full article is in the AGE HERE