The Key is Good Teachers

A little while ago I was involved in a forum convened by the Grattan Institute which was looking at teacher performance and evaluation, and how that all fits together.

So, I was interested to see a report coming out of that institute by Ben Jensen called ‘Investing in Our Teachers: Investing in Our Economy’. All economic metaphors aside, the basic premise; that good teaching is what matters most, is hard to deny. The report argues that we’ve spent too much on reducing class sizes for no good effect (have we actually really given that a go?) and argues that teacher effectiveness is the lever for real improvement.

Agree! But the next step is always blurrier and I don’t think it’s as clear cut and quanifiable as the report makes out. But the report outlines 5 ways to improve teacher effectiveness:

1. Improve the quality of applicants to the teaching profession

2. Improve the quality of teachers’ initial education and training

3. Evaluate and provide feedback to develop teachers once they enter the profession and are working in our schools

4. Recognise and reward effective teachers

5. Move on ineffective teachers who have been unable to increase their effectiveness through development programs.

Hard to argue with much of that but the word ‘effective’ is tricky, and that’s often when these things turn to standardized test results in isolation from other factors.  However, this report seems to have a better handle on all that and also says:

Many of these problems stem from a lack of meaningful teacher evaluation and development. It is, therefore, ineffective (and grossly unfair) to dismiss poorly performing teachers who have never before received effective teacher evaluation and development. All teachers need to have effective evaluation that identifies their strengths and weaknesses and feeds into individualised development plans.
A development program may aim to increase the performance of teachers found to have specific weaknesses. Development steps should be undertaken so that they can raise their effectiveness to sufficient levels. Many will improve. Some will leave the profession of their own accord and some will be dismissed for not improving their performance. As shown, this will improve learning in schools and lift Australia’s students to amongst the world’s best.

There’s no doubt in my mind that this is the approach the Federal Government wants to take on teacher performance and performance pay.

Demand for larger classes rejected!

I hadn’t seen the report arguing in favour or larger classes before I read Geoff Maslen’s articulate repudiation of it in the AGE:

ONLY an academic, safe in his book-lined office on La Trobe University’s green campus, could argue that class sizes in schools should be enlarged almost 50 per cent and that teachers should confront 35 hormone-charged and often obstreperous teenagers for six or more hours every day.

You have to wonder whether Dr John Hirst (as reported in The Age, 23/4) has ever taught in a school or been in a classroom since he left one 50 or more years ago. To suggest that children’s education would be improved by cramming 35 big or even little children into a room, just to increase teachers’ salaries, ignores the effect this over-crowding has on teacher and taught.

I also liked this a lot:

But no adults, outside the military or prison, would tolerate being forced to squeeze behind a desk and told to be quiet and get on with their work for hour after hour each day. Only because children are not grown-ups and have no rights can society condone them being incarcerated in school for 40 weeks a year for 13 long years.

That more young Australians don’t rebel against the restrictions school places on them – the demand that they wear uniforms, to line up before going into class, to sit in not always quiet, ordered rows, to accept the knowledge meted out to them in steady doses by their teachers – is because they have been taught passivity. They have come to accept that being there is part of the business of stepping across childhood’s threshold, even if the relevance of school to their present needs or their future aspirations remains obscure.

Let’s hope that idea is back in the box for a while!