International Education Tests; an overview 2005

This document landed on my desk this week, a short and fairly uninteresting summary of the International education tests, presented by Betsy Brown Ruzzi from the National Center on Education and the Economy (US)

What was interesting in the light of my post earier this month about ‘Is education really broken?’, is how this reports sits alongside our politicians decrying national standards and promising us education ‘revolutions’. In actual fact Australian students tested fare pretty well overall in the international league tables.

That’s not to suggest that all students are reaching literacy and numeracy targets, or that there aren’t entrenched pockets of under-achievement, or that we should stop striving for improvements, but overall Australian students ranked in the top 10 countries for all three subjects: reading, mathematics and science. Is this this crisis the politicians want us to believe they can solve?

The report makes some fairly unspectacular findings:

…students and schools perform best in a climate characterised by high expectations that are supported through strong student-teacher relations, students who are ready to invest effort and who show interest and lower levels of anxiety with mathematics, and a positive disciplinary climate.

The report has little specific to say about Australia except:

‘Australia, Canada, Finland and Japan stand out for high standards of both quality and equity, with abaove average mathematics performances and below-average impac of socio-economic background on student performance.’

Remember, this sits next to Bishop’s statements from her recent press conference like:

Notwithstanding the billions of dollars invested in schools in Australia, there is evidence that standards have declined, particularly in the teaching of the fundamental areas of literacy and numeracy.

Employers complain of young people lacking basic literacy and numeracy skills.

Universities admit they are offering remedial classes in English and mathematics, to bring first-year students up to an acceptable level.

The Australian Defence Force Academy says that many Year 12 school leavers are not ready for university mathematics despite achieving good results in Year 12 maths and finishing in the nation’s top 15%.

At the same time as Bishop slams the achievements of Australian school systems, Rudd is calling for revolution. It would be good to depoliticise education in this country.

Read a PDF of the full report HERE

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Is Education really broken?

photo of the Hon Julie Bishop MP
is education really broken?

Julie Bishop would like us to think so. She may not have the acerbic unlikeableness of the previous Minister but most teachers reading through her address to the National Press Club will find something to dislike.

Me? Well, simplistic solutions to complex issues for one, the oft-repeated complaint from the anonymous ’employer’ who wishes his young people could spell better, the email from a parent in QLD (my daughter can’t spell and the school doesn’t care), the criticism of variation in State curriculum as in itself a bad thing, the one joke that doesnt work (‘my memory of leapfrog was that that you were meant to leap in a forward direction’), union bashing, teacher bashing?, quotes from the mysterious Centre for Independent Studies etc. etc.

Read it for yourself here

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On the other hand…

every time I become a little disillusioned with the politicised comments of people who condemn teachers and teaching I try to remember the positivity and energy of the young people we’re lucky enough to work with every day.

I have my final Year 11 English class for the year tomorrow. We’re going to go through the Writing Task for the exam, look again at language analysis techniques and persuasive writing, time management and now to study for a text essay as well as share some party food to celebrate. Then it’s off to exams for them, and for planning next year’s projects for me.

Glamour of Grammar

Christopher Batnick gets in his take on the whole language/grammar debate with another vague and largely unsubstantiated attack on English teachers everywhere in the AGE today which takes up most of the back page of the education section.

He argues that the ‘consequences of virtually no grammar instruction for three decades are plain to see’, drawing on the Australian Association of Graduate Employers (yes, Virginia, there is apparently such an organisation), the Defence Force Academy Dean and other undefined ‘research’, making these claims along the way.

English teachers who do not teach grammar are effectively abrogating their responsibility. English is more than texts. Any student who learns a language other than English learns grammar, so why is English any different?

If grammar is not a central part of English teaching in classrooms, then surely children with poor communication skills are disenfranchised.Then there is the quality of the graduates who want to become English teachers. This is not uniformly high.

The uncomfortable reality is that there are English teachers in classrooms who are poor spellers, know little grammar and are unclear about punctuation. How can they teach children well?Teachers who are unable to correct student work accurately and explain errors to a student are simply not performing professionally.

Grammar matters, period – Education News – theage.com.au

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National Control Needed over the Institute of Public Affairs

I needn’t have spent time and energy on my last post about mini-me Kevin Donnelly clone Roskam. Lynn Sunderland’s letter in the AGE today, says it all.

Roskam should come to class some time

I AM heartily sick of working in a profession that seems to be fair game for every tin-pot little conservative ideologue. This
time it is John Roskam’s turn to assert (Opinion, 11/10) that I work in a book-free zone where all morals are relative and my students divide their time between television and playing computer games.

Perhaps Roskam would like to stand in front of my students and repeat these comments. Could be good for a laugh! On Wednesday alone, my English classes covered everything from spelling and grammar to Jack the Ripper, the influence of Napoleon on European thinking and the Spanish Civil War, across authors as diverse as Malouf, Ibsen, Defoe, Chekhov, Danny Katz and Shakespeare. Yes, Shakespeare!

I wonder if Roskam would like to come home from a hard day at work spent thinking up new ways to insult English teachers, only to find that I have written a column pleading the urgent need for national control over the Institute of Public Affairs on the basis that he and his colleagues spend their time with their feet up on the desk, flicking rubber bands at the ceiling and throwing darts at their Chairman Mao dartboard.

He may well conclude that I know as little about his workplace as he knows about mine.

Lynn Sunderland, Lyonville

A Single Curriculum is Not the Answer

I dont agree with much of John Roskam’s reasoning in his AGE article today, A Single Curriculum is Not the Answer, and especially some bs statements such as:

That’s why in English classes, students are seldom required to read books any more. They can watch television and play computer games instead.

I wonder when was the last time Mr Roskam was inside an English classroom?

Another is “outcomes-based education”, a model of learning being implemented by the Western Australian Government
that doesn’t attempt to impart knowledge to students; it merely aims to teach students how to learn.

Which made me think is John Roskam a min-me Kevin Donnelly? You know the Kevin Donnelly headlines:

Geography has lost perspective: poltiical correctness has hijacked another core school subject
The Literacy and Numeracy Crisis in our Classrooms
Fads no substitute for teaching
Whole language diehards needs facts in single syllables

You know the kind, everything is a crisis.

And I didn’t agree with this from Roskam:

If Joan Kirner, instead of being Victorian education minister 20 years ago had been federal education minister, Australia could have had the national equivalent of the Victorian Certificate of Education. Around the country, competitive examinations would have been abolished and competitive grading eliminated.

Except, earth to Roskam, the VCE didn’t abolish exams or the ‘competitive’ grading system that the Roskam would no doubt like to see down in kindergarten as well.

But I DID agree with his conclusion; that we don’t want a single curriculum fits all and this statement:

The claim that Australia as a country of 20 million people is too small to have eight different education systems is similarly flawed. If we really believed that a student in Melbourne should be taught the same science course as a student in Brisbane, then in theory there’s no reason Australian students shouldn’t get the same science curriculum as students in New Zealand.

Outcomes Based Education

No-one gets more space in The Australian on education than Education Strategies zealot Kevin Donnelly who has most of p19 of the ‘Inquirer’ section this morning railing against outcomes-based education and providing readers with his very own handy guide to ‘Marks for Your School’ (below) against four key criteria:

Detailed: how specific is the curriculum, Unambiguous: Does the curriculum have clear goals?, Measurable: Does the curriculum measure how a child is progressing? and Academic Content: is the curriculum preparing students for the future?

These seem fair enough; isn’t what we would want in curriculum? Even if we might argue whether Donnelly’s simple table actually represents those things (Donnelly loves league tables; he’d be king of the spreadsheet!

Or does it? Academic content=preparing students for the future? Is this the empty vessel thinking; fill ’em up with content and let ’em go? And what about the skills to actually develop their own learning further and other futures apart from the academic institute?

Detailed and specific = good curriculum? So where is the flexibility for curriculum to respond to the needs of the actual students in front of the teacher,

I’ve got no problems with unambiguous and measurable as good concepts, but I doubt whether I’d agree with Donnelly on a definition of them.

Donnelly’s article itself reveals as much of his own personal and political agenda as it does about ‘outcomes’.

Reports that aren’t A to E are ‘vague and feel-good’ (because B is absolutely crystal clear to everyone), students should study ‘great pieces of literature’ (no doubt Donnelly has a spreadsheet list of these to give to Howard when it’s called for. I have a list too; I wonder if they match?),

Outcomes-based education (OBE) is ‘dumbed down’ and ‘politically correct’ and has allowed ‘standards’ to fall.  Attitudes, dispositions and values such as ‘inclusivity, collaboration and partnership’ are ‘new age’ according to Donnelly, presumably to be ranked alongside crystals and speaking to dolphins!

For Donnelly, good curriculum is grounded in ‘traditional subjects’ and ‘clear and succinct road maps’ and though he does agree to the belief that a balanced approach between OBE and an academic syllabus, the strongest part of his whole article for me was his quoting of American educator William Spandy on ‘transformational outcomes-based education’: ‘it focuses on students’ lifelong adaptive capacities’. That resonated for me.

For the record, Wikipedia has a fairly critical article on OBE here