“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.”

Bereft of big ideas?

From the ‘pretty much everyone agrees that National Curriculum is a good idea’ lovefest on the 7l30 Report last night I thought I must be the only living person in NY who still has big question marks about the ideas. So, I was pleased to see this piece in the AGE today from Libby Tudball, which summarised some of the problems I  have with it.

It begins:

Australia needs an innovative, world-class approach to school curriculum, but it is clear from the ”back to basics” national curriculum draft that we have a long way to go yet. While maths, science, history and English – the disciplines the draft gives priority to – are all critically important, they do not cover many areas of significance for 21st-century learners.
Curriculum must pay attention to questions and issues that confront the world today, such as climate change, economic issues, refugees, social dislocation among young people, and the challenges of a technology-driven world.
Yes, we want students who are knowledgeable in maths, science, history and English, but we must recognise that some of the most important knowledge will not fall neatly into these disciplines – politics, multiculturalism, water shortages, increasing violence and under-age drinking are vital concerns in their lives.
Students need to develop the knowledge and skills to be active and informed citizens who know how to think critically, and how to respond to contemporary issues; a narrowly focused curriculum will not do this.
That is why teachers nationwide are expressing strong concerns about what is being launched as the new ”world-class Australian national curriculum”.

Australia needs an innovative, world-class approach to school curriculum, but it is clear from the ”back to basics” national curriculum draft that we have a long way to go yet. While maths, science, history and English – the disciplines the draft gives priority to – are all critically important, they do not cover many areas of significance for 21st-century learners.
Curriculum must pay attention to questions and issues that confront the world today, such as climate change, economic issues, refugees, social dislocation among young people, and the challenges of a technology-driven world.
Yes, we want students who are knowledgeable in maths, science, history and English, but we must recognise that some of the most important knowledge will not fall neatly into these disciplines – politics, multiculturalism, water shortages, increasing violence and under-age drinking are vital concerns in their lives.
Students need to develop the knowledge and skills to be active and informed citizens who know how to think critically, and how to respond to contemporary issues; a narrowly focused curriculum will not do this.
That is why teachers nationwide are expressing strong concerns about what is being launched as the new ”world-class Australian national curriculum”.

Back to basics (continued)

Below, how the Herald-Sun described the Australian National Curriculum today.

Interesting that Rudd argues that standards have slipped, yet the results of international testing don’t seem to indicate that. I’ve seen presentations on these tests that indicate Australian students sit very highly in international rankings (this government likes rankings), certainly higher than the USA curriculum approaches the government is heavily appropriating.

Which make me think (again)  that the real agenda is not improved learning, but political point-scoring. “CAN’T deliver on roof-bats, CAN deliver on education”, that kind of thing.

TEACHERS will be ordered back to school to learn how to deliver a new “back-to-basics” national curriculum.
Kevin Rudd said standards had been allowed to slip over the years, leaving children without the building blocks for a decent education.
From next year, every student from prep to year 10 nationwide will learn from the same curriculum in English, history, maths and science.
“It’s making sure that the absolute basics of knowledge, the absolute basics of education are taught right across the country,” the PM said.
In a world first, the draft curriculum has been placed on the internet, allowing parents to see exactly what their children should be learning.

Back to basics

The long awaited draft detail of the National Curriculum wont be out until tomorrow but, as any long-time reader of this blog would know, I’ve got strong reservations about it. Those fears weren’t really soothed with the Prime Minister’s quote in the AGE today.

Mr Rudd said the objective was, ”without apology, to get back to the absolute basics on spelling, on sounding out letters, on counting, on adding up, on taking away.

”The basics that I was taught when I was at primary school a long time ago, and that’s what our national curriculum is all about.” he said.

As if that could possibly be a good thing?

A New Era of Localism

I had made a solemn promise to my blogging self not to talk any more about the propects of national curriculum since we all apparently agree on what a great boon it will be for our nation, and those students who move interstate every year, for all Australian curriculum, including content and pedagogy, to come out of Canberra where only good things happen!

However, I couldn’t resist another go at breathing life into the corpse of local and state autonomy by pointing out that Britain is about to abandon those very reforms we’re about to copy. The Guardian reports today:

In a totemic break from the Blair years, next week’s education white paper will signal the end of Labour’s national strategies for schools, which includes oversight of the literacy and numeracy hours in primaries. The changes will strip away centralised prescription of teaching methods and dramatically cut the use of private consultants currently employed to improve schools.
They will give schools more freedom and establish new networks of school-to-school support to help drive up standards in what will be described as a “new era of localism”.

In a totemic break from the Blair years, next week’s education white paper will signal the end of Labour’s national strategies for schools, which includes oversight of the literacy and numeracy hours in primaries. The changes will strip away centralised prescription of teaching methods and dramatically cut the use of private consultants currently employed to improve schools.

They will give schools more freedom and establish new networks of school-to-school support to help drive up standards in what will be described as a “new era of localism”.

It’s not all good news, of course. Britain also proposes New York style report cards for schools giving schools a grade from A to F.  Funny how only schools get a report card and a grade; isn’t is possible to think outside this paradigm when we’re talking about education?

Subsidiarity

I had almost decided to stop talking about my reservations with the National Curriculum and just go along with it like everyone else.  After all, there are bigger issues in the world just now, like the GBC (global economic crisis aka global economic meltdown).  But as Tom Petty famously sang, ‘I won’t back down’ (though I prefer the Johnny Cash version)

So, as I was reading a recent offering from the CSE Seminar Series with the unlikely title, The European Union education and training agenda: An Overview by Gaby Hostens I came across the following term: Subsidiarity, and the explanation:

In governance, the principle of subsidiarity means that whatever can be decided and executed at a lower governance level should decided and executed at a lower level! For the EU education and training policies, it implies that the member countries remain fully competent for their education and training policies … Subsidiarity in EU education and training policies means that the EU has a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks that cannot be performed effectively at the level of the member states … In the conclusions for the framework on idicators and benchmarks (2007) the education ministers refaffirmed the following: ‘The development of new indicators shall fully respect the responsibility of member states for the organistation of their education systems and should not impose undue administrative or financial burdens on the organisations and institutions concerned … Ever since 1992 the principle of subsidiarity has been the leading principle for EU education and training policies.

Now translate that into the Australian context where the Commonwealth government is the EU and the states are the member states and it’s a policy totally at odds with the national curriculum push which is, we’re assured, in the traditions of world’s best practice. 

Subsidiarity. I like it.

Lawyers, Guns and Money

Well there wasn’t a lot of actual guns thankfully, but a lot of implied threats, angst, legal wrangling and big money at stake this week in the Federal Parliament as school funding and national curriculum and political ambitions all got tangled up. There were threats, counter-threats, bluffs, bullying and bravado, and while education was front page, it wasn’t pretty.

It’s what happens when the politicians bring ideology to education. I can’t imagine it happening in medicine or even law, where the independence of the judiciary and recognition of their expertise, is sacrosanct. Education is open slather.

The end result is that the national curriculum is coming and tied to funding. I’ve blogged often about my reservations here: that national: big, bloated and beauracratic is not necessarily better. That local solutions to local needs, especially student needs aren’t likely to be served by a ‘one size fits all’ policy, and that it’s bound to be heavily influenced by the politics of the day.

This view isn’t shared by the government, or even by many teachers I must admit. And, for all intents and purposes, the argument became academic this week.

States squabbling over test benchmarks

It had to happen of course; that the new spirit of national cooperation and cooperative revolution would get stickier and trickier when it got down to the details. Like the NAPLAN (National Asessment of  Literacy and Numeracy) benchmarks and where they might be placed.

Last week the Herald-Sun gave some glimpse of that behind the scenes wrangling when it reported that high performing states (Victoria) were jostling with low performing states (WA, NT, TAS) over where to place the literacy and numeracy benchmarks: too high and the low performing states will look like basket cases, and too low and the results in Victoria will be absurdly high.

The paper said: 

But the poor results in Tasmania, WA and the Northern Territory have sparked a political row between the states over where benchmarks should be set.

And the row has put the broader concept of the national curriculum – hailed by educators and politicians as a necessary step forward – at risk.

A Victorian education source told the Sunday Herald Sun state departments were squabbling over where the benchmarks should be set and the Naplan literacy and numeracy standards were set “embarrassingly low so the results don’t look too bad in some areas of the country”.

“If they had set the minimum standards any lower, Victoria would have scored 100 per cent and if they had set them any higher, the NT would have been diabolical,” the source said.

And this is only the beginning. This will only get murkier as the national curriculum moves from zealous ideology to actual curriculum.

 

21st Century Learning Discussion

With the annual Curriculum Corporation COnference circus in town last week, there was a lot of talk about national curriculum, at briefings I attended, and on the mainstream radio. Including this discussion on the Radio National program Life Matters.

Australia has a ’21st century economy with a 19th century education system’, Rupert Murdoch’s damning assessment in his Boyer lectures currently being broadcast on ABC Radio National. But is it fair?

Today a forum recorded at the National Curriculum Corporation Conference on what a 21st century education might actually look like.

The panel includes some of the top education reformers and innovators in the world. They discuss the current major reform of curriculum in Australia, skills and knowledge needed in the 21st century, how Hong Kong transformed its education system and the role of technology and innovation.

Michael Stevenson
Vice President of Global Education at Cisco Systems

Guests

Professor Barry McGaw
Head of the National Curriculum Board and Director of the Melbourne Education Research Institute

Valerie Hannon
Director of Strategy for the UK Innovation Unit

Chris Wardlaw
Former Deputy Secretary of Education in Hong Kong

You can listen to the conversation HERE

Some US High Schools Return to Electives (gasp)

We hold these truths to be self evident: that giving students some choice in their own learning directions is likely to lead to them becoming more actively engaged in their own learning, and likely to help them find that ‘thing’ they love.

So, I was pleased to read in the NY TImes today that some US high schools are returning to electives as a tool to keep senior students interested in school.

The comment that caught my eye though, in light of our Federal Government’s recent interest in NY style schooling and national curriculum imperatives was this:

After years in which tight school budgets and a battery of federal and state testing mandates have narrowed curriculums nationwide to emphasize basic reading, math and science, Pelham and a handful of other high-performing school districts have begun to expand their course catalogs with electives.

Narrowing curriculum? Federal testing mandates? Sound familiar?