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So, Mr Murdoch, our public schools are a disgrace…

23 Nov

Next day preface

I posted the following late last night, quite frankly to vent, so there it is, ad hominem arguments questioning Mr Murdoch’s qualifications and motives and all. Mind you, I am not sure that the ad hominem is utterly wrong in this case.

What I don’t want you to take from the post is that I think all is as it should be in NSW (or Australian) public education. However, I do get tired of those who keep pointing us in what may well be the wrong direction, or who imply that our teachers are lazy and/or have no idea what they are doing and/or are puppets  driven back and forth by the trendy idea of the day.

Seriously, look further than Mr Murdoch, if you are interested in these matters. You may be interested in Measuring Skills for the 21st Century, which is the subject of praise from a sceptical Washington Post writer. On the other hand, one of the fetishes of our own conservatives on literacy teaching may not deliver what they expect. See Reading First Impact Study: Interim Report. See Education Week:

The $6 billion funding for the federal Reading First program has helped more students “crack the code” to identify letters and words, but it has not had an impact on reading comprehension among 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders in participating schools, according to one of the largest and most rigorous studies ever undertaken by the U.S. Department of Education.

While more time is spent on reading instruction and professional development in schools that received Reading First grants than in comparison schools, students in participating schools are no more likely to become proficient readers, even after several years with the extended instruction, the study found.

Among both the Reading First and comparison groups, reading achievement was low, with fewer than half of 1st graders, and fewer than 40 percent of 2nd and 3rd graders showing grade-level proficiency in their understanding of what they read. On a basic decoding test, however, 1st graders in Reading First schools scored significantly better than their peers…

See also USA Today:

Advocates of Reading First, an integral part of the 2002 No Child Left Behind law, have long maintained that its emphasis on phonics, scripted instruction by teachers and regular, detailed analyses of children’s skills, would raise reading achievement, especially among the low-income kids it targets. But the new study by the U.S. Education Department’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES) shows that children in schools receiving Reading First funding had virtually no better reading skills than those in schools that didn’t get the funding.

Fear Greeks bearing gifts, and so on. I guess that was my feeling about Mr Murdoch.

The post

Funny, but I find myself a little conflicted here. According to the report on ABC News of the latest Boyer Lecture, it isn’t just Aussie schools… The key word is “public”. And the emphasis is on Anglophone public schools. (He needs to visit Finland, I think.)

"The unvarnished truth is, that in countries such as Australia, Britain and particularly the United States, our public education systems are a disgrace," he said. "Despite spending more and more money, our children seem to be learning less and less – especially for those who are most vulnerable in our society."

This seems to have something to do with our old friend literacy, or the lack of it. In a summary of the Lecture pre-published in Murdoch’s most literate Australian paper The Man said:

Most of you are well aware of the public debate about education. And you will be well aware that there is a whole industry of pedagogues devoted to explaining why some schools and some students are failing. Some say classrooms are too large. Others complain that not enough public funding is devoted to this or that program. Still others will tell you that the students who come from certain backgrounds just can’t learn.

The bad schools do not pay for these fundamental failings. Their students pay the price because they are the victims when our schools fail. And the more people we graduate without basic skills, the more likely Australian society will pay the price in social dysfunction: in welfare, in health care, in crime. We must help ourselves by holding schools accountable and ensuring that they put students on the right track.

The solution apparently is to involve Big Business more directly.

Now why should I have just a little twinge of suspicion there?

And why should I wonder why private schools will be better at delivering all those wonderful things to their, um, customers? Some do deliver, of course. I have taught in both public and private schools. But too many “customers” have the delusion that paying for something guarantees “better”. I can tell you there are are a lot of people out there wasting an awful lot of money to get an education they probably could have had at the public school down the road… **

Then, of course, the ONLY system that cannot reject any comer is the public system; it isn’t allowed either a “too hard basket” or the luxury of dumping recalcitrants on someone else.

In China of course they don’t have private schools, but they have developed a very competitive set of elite schools. They have also had to backtrack in recent years to discourage mere rote learning and encourage creativity. (See my little piece on coaching.) But China, Rupert tells us, is a shining light:

Recently, for example, American public television ran a special called Chinese Prep, which followed five students through their final year at an elite high school. These students are competing for slots at the top universities in a system based almost entirely on merit. The pressure is intense, and most Australians watching would probably think that the time and effort these boys and girls put into their studies is inhumane.

Now, the high school in this film is elite, and it is far from representative of the schools that most Chinese attend. But the interesting thing about this program is the emphasis on competition, on merit, on doing well on standardised tests.

Some of the children who do end up doing well come from very poor backgrounds. The television cameras showed that one of them lived in essentially a hut in the countryside.

But no one makes allowances for them. They compete with the children of high officials. And they succeed. In a sense, the entire school system is taking a lesson from Confucius, who observed sagely, as a sage does: "If I am walking with two other men, each of them will serve as my teacher. I will pick out the good points of the one and imitate them, and the bad points of the other and correct them in myself."

I am not saying that Chinese education is perfect. It certainly is not. But it is clear that in a system where you are expected to perform, there is less slacking off.

Maybe that’s because poor people in China know that doing well on tests and getting a good education is the ticket to personal progress. Or maybe they know that the consequences for failure are much more severe than they are in, say, the more comfortable societies that are America and Australia.

There is so much sense and nonsense in that I really don’t know where to start!

I guess we really should heed the man who brings us Fox News and tabloid newspapers when it comes to standards in literacy education, eh! Trouble is, many will be influenced, and I find that very, very sad.  What he says is no truer than it was the last several thousand times it was said, often by Mr Murdoch’s hand-picked education experts…

Bah, humbug! If you want more argument follow the literacy category here. I am just too tired to argue any more, and as I have also been saying lately, it is no longer my problem. Just take it from me we would be very foolish to pay Mr Murdoch too much attention in this area at least. There is an agenda here, I am sure of it.

** Ironically: Parents abandon private schools as downturn bites:

THE global economic crisis is forcing parents to pull children out of private schools and fall back on the state system, and some of Sydney’s top private schools are bracing for a slump in enrolments.

Some public schools have already filled vacancies for next year, with up to 60 per cent of new enrolments coming from private schools.

After more than a decade of aggressive fee increases, the private sector has conceded the years of growth are over…

"There is a sense of – I won’t say the word ‘exodus’ – but exit from the private sector," said Andrew Blair, the president of the Australian Secondary Principals Association, which represents the heads of government-run schools.

"I reckon we’re going to see the next three to four weeks being critical to enrolments in the public sector for the beginning of 2009."

Mr Blair said public schools were already reporting unusually high interest, particularly from parents of private school children. He said smaller independent schools would have to consider restructuring their fees.

A dossier produced at the meetings of Catholic primary principals, obtained by the Herald, recommends wide-ranging cuts, including a 40 per cent reduction in cleaning and a shift of programs such as life education and swimming from yearly to once every two years…

Suzette Young, the principal at Willoughby Girls High School, was still wading through a pile of enrolment applications. There were always a lot, she said, but this year there were more.

"Quite a few people from private schools write on their expression of interest forms ‘financial issues’," she said…

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Posted by on November 23, 2008 in Australia, awful warnings, culture wars, education, literacy

 

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