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Category Archives: future schooling

League tables can play to fears of parents

It has been a while since I have had a rant on education. After all, I am, tutoring aside, pretty much out of the game now leaving it in the capable hands of people like The Rabbit, but League tables can play to fears of parents in today’s Sydney Morning Herald is worth noting because Ken Boston is right.

… Dr Boston, who served as the chief executive of the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority in England for seven years before he resigned after a chaotic round of national curriculum tests last year, addressed a meeting of school principals in Sydney yesterday.

Dr Boston said league tables had damaged the curriculum in England and could not be relied on to provide fair and accurate comparisons.

”I am a supporter of national testing in England and in Australia,” he said. ”I am opposed to the use of league tables.”

Dr Boston said England’s system of school inspections and auditing had resulted in authoritative reports on schools, leading to improvements in their performance. However, simplistic league tables had gained greater public attention…

The high stakes attached to league tables in England had ”seriously damaged the breadth and quality” of the primary school curriculum, making it ”narrower and poorer”. The role of national tests had changed from providing a diagnostic tool for improvement to a determinant of a teacher’s future employment. As a result, a recent survey had shown 70 per cent of primary schools were spending three hours a week on prepping students for literacy and numeracy tests, which had narrowed the focus on other subjects…

Take note, Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd: such may be the unintended consequences of running the tape measure over everything willy-nilly – not an education revolution but an education nightmare, not the sought transparency but further confusion.

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Ken Boston outsources, falls on sword…

I will give Ken Boston some marks for integrity, to judge from Australian steps down as Britain’s exams chief after marking debacle. Ken Boston is a familiar name to any of us who were teaching here in NSW in the 80s and 90s. As the article explains: “Dr Boston, 65, was instrumental in delivering many reforms to the NSW education system during the early 1990s under Dr Terry Metherell. He has headed the British authority since 2002.” Here is what happened, according to the Sydney Morning Herald:

ONE of Britain’s most highly paid and powerful public servants, the former NSW education chief Ken Boston, has resigned his £328,000 ($873,000)-a-year post after a chaotic round of national curriculum tests.

Dr Boston, who began his career as a teacher in Victoria and was in his sixth year at the helm of the British schools testing watchdog, announced that he believed in public officials "taking responsibility when things go wrong".

Thousands of British children aged 11 and 14 received late – or incorrect – Standard Assessment Test results this year after the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority outsourced their administration to an American company, ETS, which signed a £156 million contract for the job. The British Government sacked the company in August.

Known as SATs, the tests are given at the end of years 2, 6 and 9 and are designed to measure children’s progress in comparison with peers born in the same month. The mess led the Government to drop the tests for 14-year-olds and there has been debate about scrapping the tests for 11-year-olds.

An inquiry by Lord Sutherland was launched into the disastrous round of SATs three months ago and is widely predicted to contain serious criticisms of the authority. The report is due to be handed down in London tomorrow…

He said at the weekend that the performance of ETS had been "quite unacceptable" and repeated an apology issued to the 1.2 million students who took the tests and their teachers at the end of the summer term in Britain.

Criticism of Dr Boston has been tough since the disastrous results and he has come under pressure about his salary package, which includes the use of a £1 million apartment in London’s fashionable Chelsea district as well as six business-class flights a year back to Australia. London newspapers have also made an issue of his ownership of a yacht in Sydney…

Our measurement fetish – and theirs in the UK, and ditto in the USA — really needs to be looked at in the light of these events, not to mention the perils of outsourcing to private concerns. The same mob did our Adult Literacy Survey under Howard in 2006: Australian Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2 (with comments by Jim Belshaw).

I wrote more on the Educational Testing Service a year ago on English/ESL: Email about the Educational Testing Service.

 
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Posted by on December 15, 2008 in Australia, awful warnings, Brendan Nelson, curriculum, education, exams and assessment, future schooling, Jim Belshaw, John Howard, literacy, London

 

Who are the ones with an agenda?

Of course in any situation people tend to accuse the “other side” of having an agenda, and when you think about it I suppose you really hope there is an agenda, given that the alternative is probably ad-hoc muddle through policy… But we know what people mean when they make the comment.

Today we have an education issue running up against a serious finance issue. Rightly or wrongly, the Rudd government is trying to throw large amounts of money at non-government schools. Well, “throw” may be a bit much, I suppose, as all that’s happening is the implementation of arrangements already agreed to – or so it seemed before Senator Fielding (Family First) and certain of the like-minded members of the Opposition (thanks for that post and its prequel and promised sequels, Thomas) started throwing their weight around.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Opposition and Family First Senator Steve Fielding are refusing to pass the bill and therefore release the funding because it’s tied to a national curriculum which is yet to be written. To press home the message to them, Julia Gillard held a media conference flanked by two Bills, Bill Daniels from the Independent Schools Council and Bill Graham from the National Catholic Education Commission.
BILL DANIELS: This is legislation that was flagged pre-election. This is the Government doing exactly what it said it would do. We regard it as absolutely essential that this legislation is passed to give schools and parents the certainty and funding stability that they need from the 1st January next year.
BILL GRAHAM: The National Catholic Education Commission is comfortable with the process underway to develop the national curriculum and we would ask that the bill be agreed to and passed, the legislation passed before the end of the year.
ALEXANDRA KIRK: Ms Gillard’s not stopping there, thanking them for helping her send a letter to every non-government school in the country this afternoon.
JULIA GILLARD: And I quote, "the Independent Schools Council of Australia and the National Catholic Education Commission have supported the bill. Unfortunately the Senate has not passed the bill."

   — PM yesterday.

Now we have the delicious irony of funding perhaps being held back from the non-government school sector because the Senate has baulked at four words Fielding and company want inserted into the deal — “or other accredited course.” Now despite all the denials, we know that this  1) is a move emanating from the more recent Christian schools (I almost wrote “more feral” there) and 2) has something to do with Intelligent Design as “science”.

Fielding and company are also making life easy for any extremist madrassa that would like to set up in Australia, but they don’t see that. (And yes, I know that most of us have a rather jaundiced view of “madrassa” before you retort, if you are a Muslim reader; there are contexts where Muslim schools for the poor do a mighty job in both Pakistan and Indonesia — but of course it depends what they teach.)

There are strings to the Rudd government’s deal you see. One is that those getting the funds sign on to the new and developing national curriculum. That concept of course was brought forward by the Howard government, and has been pursued, but in my view in a somewhat more enlightened manner, by the current government. It is also the status quo in this country, in that all schools now have to implement the curricula of the state they happen to be in. In NSW they can also offer non-Board courses. So, for example, in the Jewish college where I once worked you had the NSW syllabus in English, Maths, Science etc, exactly as in any state school, though of course, and this is fair enough, taught from the perspective the college brought to them. You also had non-Board accredited courses like Jewish Studies. I am sure much the same applies in Catholic or Islamic schools.

Not good enough for Senator Fielding. They want more. And you don’t have to be Einstein, or indeed Charles Darwin, or Harry Potter, to work out what that “more” is. See the recent case of Pacific Hills Christian School in Dural, where it appears the hen-house was delivered to the fox in the end.

I of course was nasty enough to write here the other day, in reference to the USA situation:

The other thing I took from this program is how glad I am that we do not so far have the US-style tradition of local school boards here in NSW. With all the possible disadvantages we may experience in a centralised system, relying on boards and teams of experts to devise curriculum (even if implementation depends much on the local school), we gain far more, if this series is any indication. There are some things democracy is just not good at, and devising curriculum, in my opinion, is often one of them. By the way, one problem I always felt working in private schools was the sense that the “clients” owned me. That could have a plus side, but was also sometimes an unpleasant constraint. I am sure Aluminium knows exactly what I mean.

I stand by those views.

Then there is another issue getting up some noses. Should private schools publicly reveal the sources of their funding? I would definitely say yes. Here we have some of the wealthier schools saying the agenda here is to deprive them of at least some government funding.  At the moment the government denies this, but to be quite honest I really hope that is the agenda! There are much better things to do with the education dollar than enabling ermine lining in the swimming pool, if you see what I mean…

Update

Sanity seems to have prevailed, and Opposition Education spokesman Christopher Pyne is putting the best spin he can on the backflip.

Opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne has denied the Coalition has backflipped on its opposition to the Schools Assistance bill, after agreeing to pass it without further amendments.

But Education Minister Julia Gillard has described the move, which will now allow $28 billion of funding to reach independent schools, as a "humiliating backdown".

This morning the Opposition said it would move an amendment to allow schools such as Steiner and Montessori schools to teach an accredited equivalent of the national curriculum.

But Ms Gillard insisted the amendment was not needed…

There are 133 lively comments on that ABC News story too. For example:

keep in mind, that these same independent school councils are involved in the development of the new national curriculum. So they probably have a much better idea about the direction it is heading. Compare that to the automatically opposing opposition, who obviously hadn’t done the homework that was set out for them by the voting public of Australia and have been embarrassingly caught out.

The progress of the National Curriculum Board is easy to track. It is indeed drawing on a range of talent at all levels in education, government and non-government. I hold out much more hope on this than I did on earlier exercises.

 

This post is by no means meant to be cynical…

There’s a story in Lawrence Potter’s This May Help You Understand The World (2007) – see Book notes and footnotes – that prompted this, along with today’s Sun-Herald story NSW students to get promised laptops.

Lawrence Potter was at one time teaching in Rwanda.

The school I taught at had a link with a school in Australia, which occasionally raised funds for it. During my time, the link resulted in two improvements. A group of Australian schoolchildren visited and painted the school hall yellow, and twenty laptop computers arrived on the back of a truck.

I don’t want to be ungrateful, but it struck me that there might have been better uses for the raised funds than yellow paint and computers. The school hall had been a little dingy, but it was perfectly capable of doing its job, and was really only used by the karate club anyway. Meanwhile, the students slept two-to-a-bed in the dormitories (not out of choice), and most of the classroom windows were broken. And what about the computers? Well, I know that ICT is meant to be the solution to most problems, but it can’t do much if there is no regular electricity supply. Nor is it that helpful if nobody knows how to use it. The computers sat around in a room, to which visitors of the school were often shown. But students never went near it.

And I note: Rwandan Government to Digitalize Schools (22 July 2008).

The Rwandan government is moving to digitalize primary and secondary school curriculums based on the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) plan, which aims to provide each student with a laptop computer.

Rwanda is participating in the OLPC roll-out program, which the government said will be extended to all primary school children within five years.

The initiative is a move away from the traditional chalk-and-blackboard methodology, instead using ICT in curriculum development and transmission to students, said Théoneste Mutsindashyaka, Rwanda’s minister of state for primary and secondary education.

Integrated science and technology in the education sector is one of the ministry’s priorities, Mutsindashyaka said. Rwanda’s ICT adviser is currently in India in order to adopt that country’s digital science content, he affirmed, as the two countries have similar curriculums…

While the ministry hopes for all schools to make use of e-learning, details remain sketchy, as Mutsindashyaka was tight-lipped regarding the deal with OLPC and its cost.

Last year, Rwandan President Paul Kagame confirmed that a deal had been reached between the Rwandan government and OLPC to supply laptops to schools. Under the deal, Kagame said at the time, OLPC would provide laptops and support to fully test its concept at no cost to Rwanda.

I am not knocking that story, though the juxtaposition with the previous one is intended, as it is with our latest Kevin Rudd and NSW venture:

EVERY senior NSW public school student will get to keep a mini laptop after a new funding deal was thrashed out at yesterday’s Commonwealth-state funding talks in Canberra.

Some will receive their custom-built computers, powered by a wireless broadband network, by the end of term two next year, with the State Government planning to seek expressions of interest from manufacturers as early as Wednesday.

The successful tenderer will produce laptops based on a prototype already developed by IT experts in the Education Department. Students will be able to keep their computers after they leave school.

The funding breakthrough came after months of bitter fighting over the Federal Government’s offer of $1 billion to the states to fulfil federal Labor’s election promise to give every year 9 to 12 student a computer…

the breakthrough in negotiations yesterday means NSW students will soon add a lightweight laptop to their schoolbags after Premier Nathan Rees secured sufficient funding to finalise a massive bulk buy with a computer company.

The Federal Government has coughed up an extra $3.55 billion in education funds to the states.

Mr Rees immediately pledged that NSW would lead the country by providing 197,000 senior public school students with the specially designed teenager-friendly computers. [sic!]

Half the state’s public high schools would have wireless internet connections by mid-2009, he promised, signalling the start of the laptop rollout. Mr Rees told The Sun-Herald NSW would receive $200 million from the Commonwealth for computers in public schools – and offered the other states and territories the chance to join NSW in a huge computer spending spree.

"We’re ready to push the button to seek market players as early as Wednesday and we can help other states get on board by being the national broker for the deal."…

Hmm. This may not be as good an idea as it seems. Think about it.

Very often foisting things on people because it seemed a good idea at the time is not the brightest thing to do, but it makes good copy and gives the impression of decisiveness. I would include the former Australian government’s Northern Territory Intervention in such a critique, by the way. In another era Disadvantaged Schools in NSW were at some time (I think in the 70s) all issued with carpet, because it was decided, not all that unreasonably, that this actually had certain educational benefits, noise reduction and insulation not least. However, it soon became a standing joke that you could always tell a Disadvantaged School because even the store rooms were carpeted… Carpet was just thrown at them whether they needed or wanted it or not, and had to be used for, well, something.

I have similar niggles about what Rudd and our Premier Rees have just stitched up. I can see the potential for all sorts of duplication and wastage here. I can, I might add, see why the schools don’t, it seems, get to keep the laptops. After two to three years of “teenager-friendly” use they will probably not be worth keeping!

Back to Lawrence Potter again. I love his ability to take a really fresh look at the issues he deals with, while clearly taking great care to check his facts – a point he does make in his introduction. Don’t let his “teenager-friendly” style fool you. He is hard-nosed when needs be, but it is impossible after reading his concise account of world finances and the developing world (a term apparently not quite politically correct in some circles) to escape the conclusion that Free Market Enthusiasm is itself a convenient delusion which has among its many advantages its power to relegate concrete human problems and real ethical and moral issues so that they don’t interfere with profit too much.

And on “teenager-friendly”: should we read that as a clue? See Hewlett-Packard to Unveil Teenager-Friendly Computer Line.

 
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Posted by on November 30, 2008 in Africa, Australia, Australia and Australian, awful warnings, computers, education, future schooling, globalisation/corporations, Kevin Rudd, NSW politics, Political, politics, weirdness

 

Schools required to report income | The Australian

Given what I said the last two times I have talked about the Education Revolution — see One and a half cheers for Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard and More for Kevin and Julia to chew on… — you may be surprised to learn that I think Schools required to report income may be a good idea.

ALL schools will have to publish their income from fees, fundraising and investments as part ofthe federal Government’s insistence on greater accountability and transparency in the schools system.

Education Minister Julia Gillard will tell a forum of independent schools today that the Government will require schools to report income streams as well as student performance and demographics. Ms Gillard says funding of non-government and government schools will be conditional on publicly reporting their performance to identify substandard schools and share best practice.

“I want to make it absolutely clear that everything we require of public schools, we will require of non-government schools and everything we require of non-government schools we will require of public schools,” a copy of Ms Gillard’s speech says…

Ms Gillard says the Government’s framework for reporting will include the income streams into schools “so we can properly analyse what difference extra resources make”.

What do you think?

 

More for Kevin and Julia to chew on…

How opportune is this! School report cards counterproductive: OECD.

Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced his much-vaunted education revolution this week, but an international report has warned against the kind of public reporting of school performance levels that he is proposing.

The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) says comparing the performances of schools, their principals and teachers does not work as a way of producing better academic results.

The report, called Improving School Leadership, has been two years in the making and looks at the quality of education in 19 of the 30 countries in the OECD.

Finland, which scores highest on the international league tables, has no official school assessments but instead owes its success to a strong investment and respect for its teaching profession…

Sack the donkeys who’ve been advising you… Did you inherit them?

donkey

For more see Improving School Leadership – Volume 1: Policy and Practice, Volume 2: Case Studies on System Leadership.

 
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Posted by on August 29, 2008 in Australia, Australia and Australian, awful warnings, challenge, education, future schooling, right wing politics

 

One and a half cheers for Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard

PM aims to teach unions a lesson – National – smh.com.au reports, among other matters on which I have no competence to comment:

KEVIN RUDD and Julia Gillard turned up the heat on the education unions yesterday with the Prime Minister telling them it was time to move into the 21st century.

But as Mr Rudd and his deputy began the hard sell of tough new measures to improve school standards, the trade unions continued to flex their muscles behind the scenes over a number of policy measures.

The Australian Education Union organised a briefing for about 40 members of caucus and staff over the school announcement in which future commonwealth funding for the states would depend on them adopting greater transparency and accountability measures for the schools system.

There is, however, more concern among the backbench over the earlier announcement this week of a trial program in which parents of truant children would have their welfare docked for up to three months…

The AEU has been hostile to Mr Rudd’s new funding conditions for schools. From next year, public and private schools would have to publicly disclose performance information.

Schools which continued to underperform after receiving additional funding of up to $500,000 a year would be expected to sack the principal or teachers, and even close or merge with another school.

Mr Rudd urged the unions and states to embrace the measures. There would be a significant boost to funding in return for agreement but the Government no longer intended to write “blank cheques”.

The Opposition leader Brendan Nelson introduced similar laws in 2004 as a condition of the last four-year funding agreement he introduced as education minister but was largely ignored by the states and unions.

“Mr Rudd has the power now to withhold money from states that have not complied with this and and the challenge for him is will he do so?” he said.

One and a half cheers for at least being serious about education, and no cheers at all for Brendan Nelson whose chest merkin (a pubic wig, for those who don’t know) ill becomes him.

But I believe Kevin and Julia should actually listen to the education unions because they just might be right this time. I have no faith at all in the bureaucratic thrust of the K&J scheme, just as a very short time ago I railed about Looking to America, but not like Julie Bishop. I suspect that K&J will create a situation where schools will be issuing report cards that bear a strong resemblance to steel production figures in China during The Great Leap Forward or in the USSR under Stalin — inventive rather than strictly factual. Why? Because money will be at stake. Even if that fear is absurd — and it may well be — I can’t help thinking that the whole scenario will subtract even more from the time that is given to actual teaching.

I am of course a back number, but I am writing from the heart — I will let you judge if it is also from the head — as one who after all recently discovered that I have been, on occasions, an actual “teacher who changes lives.” Furthermore, my approach to such issues as literacy seems to have been endorsed recently when my English/ESL blog was peer-reviewed and placed in the top 100 language blogs on the Net. That does not make me infallible, but it does make me feel my instincts about what K&J are up to may have some substance. And I am not alone. I am writing also primarily as a secondary (and occasionally tertiary) English teacher who began the game forty-two years ago. I have seen a few Education Revolutions in my time.

I endorse Don Brown of Narrabeen in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

As a former “recalcitrant” (“Rudd’s school revolution”, August 28) member of what Peter Hartcher has called a “huddling collectivist mediocrity” (“Pugilistic PM has picked a classy fight”) I wish to make a few things clear to the Prime Minister, whose election I, and many other similar recalcitrants, worked hard to bring about.

Years ago, the State Government introduced the principle that parents could elect to send their children to any public school they wished if space was available after the enrolment of local students. There was some relatively insignificant movement at the primary level. At the secondary level the most common reasons for parents not to choose the local high school were the availability of a specific subject in another high school or a decision to enrol in a private school.

Schools began a vigorous campaign to publicise their offerings, campaigns in which the media showed little interest despite some impressive performances, particularly during the participation and equity program of the federal Labor government in the 1980s.

The print media, and particularly the broadsheet media, continued to contrast the “elite” private schools with the public schools supposedly being run on Soviet lines by the above mentioned collective. The main story was the continuing drift to private schools because the public schools were “values free”. What nonsense.

Research by the Greens MP John Kaye showed that the greatest factor behind the drift was the allocation of public funding to private schools.

I would love the space to document all the flaws in Kevin Rudd’s proposal but two points will suffice. On the demand that schools provide more information, the fact is that schools have information on hand and communicate it to parents in various ways, including newsletters, parent-teacher nights and open days. Those parents who are interested can always seek an appointment with the principal or a specific teacher. In most cases this request would be welcomed.

Secondly, having taught in schools that were difficult to staff because of socio-economic disadvantage, I am very proud of their record in raising the aspirations of many students. I can cite dozens of students who were the first in their family to gain a qualification such as the School Certificate, HSC or a university degree.

These teachers are paid no more than teachers in privileged areas and frequently must travel great distances from their homes. Students owe a great debt to those teachers whose dedication and concern for their welfare made such a difference.

I also endorse Alan Young, even if while I agree in principle with his first point I think a lot of thought has to go into how it works.

Kevin Rudd’s proposal to link teacher pay to performance is long overdue, opposed only by those who would argue that what teachers do is in some way incapable of description, unlike the work of dentists, doctors, lawyers, plumbers and the rest of the workforce.

He is on more contestable grounds, however, when he proposes to link funding to results as though disadvantaged and advantaged schools operate on similar planets. Dire consequences are implied for those who don’t measure up.Some school environments have a clientele who will do well regardless of the dunces that teach them. Others will struggle despite the Messianic proclivities of staff.

Allan Young Retired principal, Strathfield

I even more strongly endorse this letter:

Never in 32 years as a professional educator have I felt so abandoned. If there is a problem in a school, Kevin Rudd says sack the principal and the teachers. He does not say give them adequate resources and smaller class sizes. He does not say provide support to deal with a broad range of challenging students. He does not say that if teachers need more skills, he will provide the funds.

Why won’t he and the rest of the politicians forget the populist claptrap and provide appropriate funding? Why won’t he work with us and not against us? If he and the others don’t, the standard of education must, as a result of their policies, decline.

Patrick FitzGerald Deputy principal, Young High School

Listen up, Kevin and Julia, lest your Education Revolution morphs into Education Reaction.

I am a back number, as I said, but I know there are those out there still — or about to be out there — who have the capacity and will to deliver the best to our present and future students. No matter what I may have said about or to The Rabbit at times, I am confident he is a fine English teacher with a great future; his love for the subject is unquestioned, and the progress he is making professionally is very pleasing to this old stager. Similarly, I am sure Thomas will deliver in spades in the future. And that’s just two I know about… Aluminium, too, in another sphere — and sometimes battling in a rather strange environment — knows what good English teaching is and what students need. My visit to The Mine the day before yesterday — I ran M’s pics by the Head of Art and Photography there — revealed a first-rate band of English teachers hard at work.

You may note this entry — and some other recent ones on this subject — are tagged “right wing politics.” Sadly, it is not inappropriate…

NOTE

…in a classic Freudian typo I posted this first as “One and a half cheers for Kevin Rudd and Julia Bishop”! What was I thinking?