Weird Science

Today the Victorian Government announced that it had shelved a $28 million dollar project to invent a “pleasant tasting, attention-sustaining, low-priced drink that enables secondary students to work safely and with sustained alertness all day” because it failed the common-sense test. And yes, I’m pretty sure that Coca-Cola might have already invented it. There’s more about that here

That educational initiative came just a day or so after the Federal Minister for Education announced, and repeated, that to raise the standards of students entering teaching degrees, future applicants would have to be in the top 30% of the country in terms of literacy and numeracy based on, wait for it, their Year 9 NAPLAN results!

That was hurriedly withdrawn, but I did have to agree with the AGE letter writer this morning, who said:

IT IS my fear that our government, in continuing to leap on the standards-based reform bandwagon , will be moving to a superficial and restrictive system to assess what cannot be assessed (‘‘ Students facing tougher entry to teaching degrees’’ , The Saturday Age, 16/4).

That this homogenised, reductive approach is being touted by our School Education Minister, whose past as an artist and activist would be as difficult to assess via standardised means as the life of a teacher, is shocking.

Throughout my teacher-training course and my six years as a teacher, I have been rigorously assessed. I, like all other teachers, have needed to prove myself during classroom observation, performance reviews and interviews. I have produced portfolios of work and documented contributions to curriculum and syllabus development.

Most importantly, I have received feedback from students and their families. Do I know the content? Yes. I have the academic transcripts and the classroom responses of my students. Does that make me a good teacher? No.

What is of greater importance is the ability to work with students, parents, colleagues and the community to offer diverse educational experiences . While these experiences may not fit neatly into a table of quantitatively derived data, there is no better measure of the ability to teach.

Madeleine Coulombe, Balwyn North

Meanwhile, somebody actually has been doing some real thinking about the quality of teaching, a Grattan Institute report just released tries to address issues of teacher quality and improvement. That report is HERE

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.

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