Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) was through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
In the build up to Education Nation (#EduNationAu), The Great Debate, a showdown about public versus private education, was billed as one of the headline acts for the event, featuring two speakers who typically take opposing views. Dr. David Zyngier (@dzyngier) was arguing for the side of public education against Dr. Kevin Donnelly (@ESIAustralia) who was, of course, arguing for the side of private education.
As promised on Twitter, I have recorded and included here the full audio of the debate. The only editing done to it was to bring the audio levels roughly into alignment as some sections, particularly during the questions from the floor, were rather quiet in the recording.
The Great Debate was structured as follows:
Dr. Zyngier opened by talking about the negativity towards public schooling being a product which began with the Fraser Government in the 1960s, who introduced public funding for private schools, creating a sense of entitlement and privilege for the few and is an anti-democratic notion. Public funding of private education has continued since then and has resulted in a constant expansion of the private education sector.
Dr. Zyngier then invoked Joe Hockey, currently the Australian Ambassador the United States, who, as Treasurer in 2014, was quoted in the media as saying “…everyone in Australia must do the heavy lifting. The age of entitlement is over, the age of personal responsibility has begun…” but, in fact, the public funding private education is about to outstrip public funding of public education vis-a-vis the funding per student amount.
This constant growth in public funding of private education has, Dr. Zyngier argued, resulted in a growing perception of private schools as being better and played a role in the residualisation of public schools. There is now a growing disparity between funding and this should be seen and felt as a national shame as there are significant consequences for our children. There is a widening disparity in resourcing for students at different ends of the socioeconomic status (SES) scale.
The priority for the Government should be full public funding for public education to help ameliorate the lottery of birth which resulted in parents having a choice, however, the choice was only available if parents could afford the choice. Stephen Dinham (OAM) was then quoted as having said that “It is hard not to conclude that what we are seeing is a deliberate strategy to dismantle public education, partly for ideological and partly for financial reasons.” Rresidualisation feeds further residualisation, was the message I was hearing at this point.
Dr. Zyngier at this point changed tack, asking the audience who had flown on a long-haul flight overseas, and who had travelled by economy class, business class or first class. There were fewer hands up for the higher classes of course, and Dr. Zyngier made the analogy that as those who choose to fly in business or first class do not expect those in economy class to subsidise their flight, why should those who choose to send their children to a private school expect the rest of us to subsidise that choice. I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a business and education is an investment in the future.
I am not entirely sure the analogy is a valid one, given that airlines are a profit-based business and education is, or should be seen as, an investment in the future. It also seems a stretch to me to argue this point, particularly given that, as Jamie Dorrington, the Rethinking Reform MC remarked, that the airlines would likely argue that the upper-class prices, in fact, subsidise the economy class prices.
Dr. Zyngier argued that this is in fact what does happen in Australia, with public funding of private schools acting as a subsidy for the lifestyle choice of the parents and that we have the highest level of privatisation of education in the OECD. Dr. Zyngier continued by pointing out that countries in the OECD such as the United Kingdom and the United States, though they have privatised education institutions, and perhaps some of the most well-known educational institutions in the world, do not give any public funds to those private education institutes whatsoever.
In closing, Dr. Zyngier made two points; firstly, he noted that Australia has been reported by the OECD as having very high student achievement results as well as significantly different learning achievements between the students at either end of the SES scale, which should be concerning to us all.Secondly, and his final point, we need to come to an agreement about what it means to have a public education system, which, to me, sounds like a national conversation about the purpose and goals of education. Maybe I am just hearing what I want to hear, though.
At this point, Dr. Donnelly took the podium to make his arguments and opened by listing off the adjectives typically used to describe him; misogynistic, homophobic, and extremist and proceeded to share some of his background with the audience, revealing that he grew up in Broadmeadows, Melbourne, as a child with a father who was a member of the Communist Party, whilst he and his brother were members of the Eureka Youth Movement, which he indicated was the Youth Communist Party, and that he had “…a good Catholic mother” which resulted in, as I can only imagine, some interesting discussions at home. He then commented that he did not want to be antagonistic or vitriolic today, which, I daresay, caused some disappointment amongst the audience
Dr. Donnelly then spoke about how Australia has a tripartite education system and that this arrangement has had consensus from the major parties for some years now, and he quoted then Minister for Education Julia Gillard as saying that “…I am committed to parents’ rights to choose the school that is best for their child.”
Dr. Donnelly, remarkably, called Gonski funding a myth and said that needs-based funding had been around a number of years, which generated a number of raised eyebrows in the room. He went on to comment that the ten-year period from 1998 saw a significantly large increase in enrolments in the private education system, and that those enrollments were predominantly in the low-fee paying schools, and that while this voting with their feet movement had slowed down since 2008, the Catholic and Independent education systems received little overall funding in the 2012/2013 budget from the Government.Additionally, argued Dr. Donnelly, high-profile schools such as Kings and Melbourne Grammar are, in fact, outliers in regards to the education fees and resourcing. and that the Australian Education Union
The Australian Education Union should be arguing, commented Dr. Donnelly, not necessarily against the stances of the parties regarding the Gonski funding model, but against those states who did not ever sign off on it. He continued by noting that Julia Gillard, then Minister for Education, signed off on twenty-seven different agreements with various state education bodies, which means that there are at least twenty-seven different funding models in place.
Dr. Donnelly then broached the argument from critics of private education that private schools only get the good kids, or those with high academic ability, and discussed research that demonstrates that the SES status of a student’s family only contributes approximately fifteen to eighteen percent of the academic variance and that the Government has spent billions of additional dollars on education without seeing the expected growth in learning outcomes. He also argues that the public selective schools, selective for academic or sporting or any other reason, are a contributor to the residualisation of public schooling, but that they do not get mentioned, with private education being an easy target
A paper by the OECD which Professor Geoff Masters (@GMasterACER), CEO of ACER (@ACEReduAu), quoted in a recent paper which indicates that Australia is second only to Denmark in regards to intergenerational mobility and that another OECD report from 2008 ranked Australia as one of the most socially mobile countries.
Dr. Donnelly closed out his opening arguments by calling for a move away from the acrimonious debate and to look at high-performing schooling systems and ask what works there that might work for us in Australia, with a move towards a decentralised education structure with increased school autonomy and choice to create the flexibility and diversity in our schools to encourage schools to be innovative.
At this point, Jamie Dorrington asked Dr. Zyngier for his rebuttal comments, however, I will leave the rebuttal from both Dr. Zyngier and Dr. Donnelly, as well as the questions from the floor, for you to listen to, as I would like to explore what we have already heard in a bit more depth.
From conversations with a few people in the room after The Great Debate, there was a feeling that no-one was actually going to change their mind based on any arguments presented today, and that there were going to be a large number of Donnelly-haters and people in the room who would support Dr. Zyngier purely based on what Dr. Donnelly has previously written and said in the media, and who would not actually be interested in hearing what he was saying. I have also heard that someone was told by their Principal they would not be given permission to attend Education Nation purely because Dr. Donnelly would be speaking.
Irrespective of what you think of Dr. Donnelly, this sort of closed-mindedness is not healthy for education debate in Australia. That sort of thinking creates an echo-chamber, where you hear only what you want to hear which creates a stagnant environment and does our students a disservice. Dr. Donnelly (and Dr. Zyngier, for that matter) made some very sensible comments today.
I do not advocate, let me make it clear, for all of Dr. Donnelly’s views. Personally, I am still working out what my own views are on a range of topics related to education, and trying to work out who I am as an educator and where I fit in the scheme of things. This means that whilst I have made my mind up about some areas, I am open to hearing ideas from all quarters. I engaged in the Twitter conversation that was going on during The Great Debate (you can actually my laptop keys at one point in the audio!) and the reactions I was seeing were a range of adjectives between positive and negative, but I saw some that attacked the man and not the argument which is shameful and contributes nothing.
Dr. Zyngier, as I mentioned, also made some great points in his argument.
Both men threw out numbers, statistics and made references to research with no citations provided. Neither man changed anyone’s mind. The debate, though interesting, and generating a lot of interest, contributed nothing to the overall debate about education in this country. I wholeheartedly agree with Dr Donnelly when he said that “we need to move on from this debate and its acrimonious nature.” The discussions about the impact of a child’s SES background depends on which research you read, is what I drew from that facet of this argument.
We need to move on, there are important issues that need to be addressed.
If you have missed any articles in the Education Nation series, you can find them here.
Now the problem with standardized tests is that it's based on the mistake that we can simply scale up the education of children like you would scale up making carburetors. And we can't, because human beings are very different from motorcars, and they have feelings about what they do and motivations in doing it, or not.
Last week, students across Australia in Years Three, Five, Seven and Nine were required to sit the annual NAPLAN testing. NAPLAN is ostensibly inflicted upon students to assess their growth over the eighteen months since their previous NAPLAN (or to serve as a benchmark if it is the student’s first NAPLAN). This testing process has a significant number of flaws and causes stress, anxiety and frustration, amongst students and parents, but also amongst some teachers. This year was my first involvement with NAPLAN, as while I am teaching a combined Year Five and Six class this year, last year I was employed in an RFF capacity and had only been in that role for a few weeks when NAPLAN arrived, and thus felt only a minimal impact as a result.
I remember sitting the Basic Skills Test in Year Five sometime in the early 1990s (though I have no recollection of sitting it in Year Three), and my recollections of it was that it was a low-key test, where my parents received a booklet which talked about grade-level expectations, and indicated where my results across the various tests sat in relation to my peers at my school, and then either across the state or across the country, I cannot recall which. My teacher, Mr. Davies, who is one of the reasons I entered the teaching profession simply told us that we had to sit this test to assess our progress and to just give it our best effort. Mr. Davies was a fantastic teacher, and as far as we knew, the test had little importance beyond what it told him about our results. We sat the test, I rushed through it as I always did (and still do) with multiple choice tests, and then went outside and read a book while I waited for my classmates to finish. Mum and Dad received the results sometime later, we chatted about them, Mum asked if I rushed through the test (cue the head hang, “Yes Mum, sorry, I just wanted to read my book”) and life moved on.
I do not doubt that there was more to it than that, however, from my perspective at that time, as a ten-year-old boy, was that it was just something we had to do, but not something that was particularly important. Things have changed, however, and not for the good. My students seemed to do ok. I had two or three students who were a little anxious, but otherwise, they did not seem overly concerned. There were, however, students across the Central Coast, from conversations with other teachers, who could not cope and actually made themselves sick, including one student in Year Three. Additionally, there were students who would ordinarily write a high-quality narrative, with excellent character development, a complex plot twist, and a clever resolution, who simply froze because of how little time they were given.
I do not know what approach other teachers took in the lead up to NAPLAN, whether much preparation was in class, or set at home; nor do I know how much preparation my students’ put in outside of school, of their own volition (or at the behest of their parents). Personally, I sat down on Monday afternoon to talk to them about it for the first time (I had studiously avoided mentioning NAPLAN) at any point prior to that), and the reaction was immediate. Some students I could tell were worried about it, some were ambivalent, and some were annoyed that they had to complete them due to the time they took out of class. My Year Six students were ecstatic, as they would be spending the time undertaking Peer Support Training with another teacher and myself.
I talked to them about NAPLAN for a little while, telling them about my own experience with the Basic Skills Test, and then made it very clear that as far as I was not worried about their NAPLAN results, as long as they put in their best effort. I reminded them of the formative testing in literacy and numeracy that we had completed at the beginning of the year, and that we would be completing those assessments at the end of this term and again at the end of Term Four, and that I was focused on the growth they showed across the three iterations of those tests. I reminded them that NAPLAN did not know or care whether they had slept well the previous night, or had eaten breakfast or not, or are more athletically inclined, or anything else, other than the results that they put on their paper and submitted for NAPLAN.
We talked about the way they get feedback on their learning outputs in class, through the marking systems we use, or through one to one conversation during class time and that I do not get to see what they write and so cannot give them feedback, or know how they went, other than the number which is given for each test result. I could see some of the tension leaving some of my students, and my Year Six students were helpful as well, talking about their experiences and that it was not as hard or as stressful as they thought it would be.
I have a great group of students.
Whether or not we like NAPLAN, it is here, and it is here to stay, though I do not doubt it will evolve over time into something else (such as the move to digital completion which has been discussed for some time). There is a body of research about the impact that it has across the education sector and in the current education environment, where we continually here about the fourth-grade slump and the drop in results across PISA and TIMMS, short-sighted politicians are looking for a quick fix that will get them votes at the next election. There is talk about planning for the future, but I sincerely doubt that it actually means anything, given the way that politicians lie in order to get the support they need.
Students across the country have teachers who know and understand that NAPLAN is relatively meaningless, a single snapshot in time which takes twelve weeks to develop, and where the original negative (student submissions) are not available for checking. NAPLAN is a broken and flawed tool which causes stress and anxiety in students and teachers and from anecdotal reports, some parents far above what it provides in return. I await the result of this year’s NAPLAN test for my students, which will mean little as the text-type for the writing test was a different text-type to what they were required to write when they were in Year Three, making the data comparison invalid from every point of view I can think of.
What was your experience with NAPLAN this year? How did you, your students and your students’ parents cope? Do you prepare your students with pre-testing or give them a speech similar to what I gave to my students? Is your school one in which NAPLAN is a highly important test, or is it largely disregarded? I would appreciate hearing about your experiences with NAPLAN and the strategies you employ in your context to survive the infliction of NAPLAN each year. As always, thank you for reading.
“There are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.”
– Professor Geoff Masters. E-Mail correspondence, 2016
Disclosure: My attendance at Education Nation (#EduNationAu) in June is through a media pass provided by the conference organisers.
All interpretations of Professor Masters’ views are my own and any misinterpretation also mine. The Interview with Professor Masters has been included for the sake of transparency.
After I had accepted the invitation to attend Education Nation in order to write a series of review articles about the event, I asked if it would be possible to conduct a series of pre-conference interviews via e-mail with some of the speakers. I was privileged to have been granted an e-mail interview with Professor Geoff Masters AO, the Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) as well as head of ACER’s Centre for Assessment Reform and Innovation.
In developing the questions for Professor Masters, I felt that it would be remiss of me to not take advantage of the opportunity to ask his opinions about statements by Professor John Hattie in April 2015, where Professor Hattie indicated that he felt classroom teachers should leave education researcher to trained researchers. I recall there being quite the uproar on social media as a result of Professor Hattie’s remarks, with a great number of educators commenting that there is no reason they cannot engage with research.
Professor Masters’ view is that it is unreasonable to expect teachers to be both highly trained and effective educators; and highly trained and effective educational researchers. It is reasonable, however, to expect teachers to be informed users of research evidence; evidence which should be a consideration for teachers when engaging in the informal research process of evaluative reflection upon their pedagogical practice.
The title of the article in which Profess Hattie’s statement was published was certainly clickbait and as with most instances of clickbait, upon reading further, the statements were not as provocative as at first glance. Indeed, Professor Masters’ response to this question implies that Hattie’s sentiment that teachers should leave the research to the researchers is reasonable. Indeed, when you read further in the article, where Professor Hattie is reported as also having said “I want to put the emphasis on teachers as evaluators of their impact. Be skilled at that,” I find it difficult to disagree.
I cannot speak to the level of training that other classroom teachers have received in research. Personally, having only received an introduction to educational research through the Honours program I completed as part of my initial teacher education (ITE) (delivered by Dr. Nicole Mockler), I do not feel that I would be able to put together a large-scale strong and rigorous research project on my own, whilst also managing the day-to-day requirements of teaching and evaluating the effectiveness of my practices. That said, I do feel that I have had enough training through the Honours program to enable me to read and utilise the outcomes of research to inform my reflections, or to work with a researcher to conduct more formal research.
Professor Masters further noted that high levels of training and proficiency are required for certain types of research, which dovetails neatly with Professor Hattie’s comment that “[r]esearching is a particular skill. Some of us took years to gain that skill.” I do not have years to invest in mastering the skills to become proficient with rigorous, high-quality formalised research. I would prefer, at this point in my career, to invest that time in developing my pedagogical practice. In that frame of reference, leave the research to the researcher is not, in my opinion, as provocative a sentiment as it first sounds.
During the last four years in various staffrooms and study sessions with my colleague pre-service teachers, I have encountered a variety of opinions regarding the relationship and relevance that research has to classroom teachers. Whilst there are pockets of teachers who see the value in the relationship, by and large, educational research appears to be seen as irrelevant. Professor Masters stated that too often pedagogical practice is shaped by beliefs about what should work in the classroom and beliefs shaped by fads and fashions of the day (Greg Ashman has written about various fads and fashions in education including here, here, here and here). Additionally, I have heard the “it worked when I was in school/first started teaching/we did it this way in the 70s and 80s” refrain regularly, with its unstated implication that it will still work.
To improve the quality of classroom teaching, and by extension, the learning outcomes for students, Professor Masters asserts that evidence-based pedagogical practices should be implemented; that is, those pedagogies which have been demonstrated through research and experience to be effective in improving students’ learning outcomes and engagement. The relationship between educational research and classroom teaching is one of sharing, with Professor Masters commenting that “[p]rofessions are defined largely by a shared knowledge base. Educational research is playing an essential role in building that knowledge base.”
It is interesting to note that there is a growing community of educators on various forms of social media sharing with their practices, both the successes and the failures, with each other, and it will be interesting to see what role the online Professional Learning Networks play in contributing to educational research in the future, both as a source of information and participants, and as a vehicle for dissemination.
I asked Professor Masters what his thoughts were on what stood in the way of Australian education and the heights of PISA and TIMMS testing results that seem to be the benchmark by which educational success is judged. I did so with reference to the ITE programs in Finland and the well-publicised reign of Finland at the top of the table in regards to PISA and TIMMS. Professor Masters’ response was relatively simple. High-performing countries, such as Finland and Singapore have raised the status of teachers.
Professor Masters noted that there are a number of high-performing countries who draw their teachers from the upper echelons of secondary education, typically starting with the top thirty percent and some drawing only from the top ten percent, making teaching in those countries, a highly respected and sought after career. This is not the case in Australia, where the required Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) is quite low, as highlighted in this article from May 2015 which indicates that almost a third of all pre-service teachers achieved an ATAR of less than sixty. That demonstrates the low respect held for teaching compared with some of the ATARs listed in this article from January 2014, indicating that a to enter a Bachelor of Health Science/Master of Physiotherapy degree at the University of Western Sydney required an ATAR of 99.95, or the combined law degrees at the University of Sydney and the University of NSW, both with minimum ATARs of 99.70.
The school of thought that simply increasing the minimum required ATAR to enter an ITE program will improve the quality of teachers is not necessarily true. This article from October 2015 indicates that only a small percentage of pre-service teachers enter their ITE immediately upon completion of their secondary education. However, I do not believe that Professor Masters is advocating such a simplistic solution. His comment that “…teaching is a highly respected and sought after career and these countries have succeeded in making teaching attractive to their brightest and best schools leavers…” (emphasis mine) indicates to me that it should be merely one component of the admission process.
Professor Masters observed that in teaching in Australia is trending in the other direction to high-performing countries, becoming less attractive, an opinion I agree with. Personally, I am finding that time I would spend planning and preparing for a lesson is being taken up by mandatory training modules which provide no actual training, or on paperwork which is needed for the sake of bureaucracy. I, like many other teachers around the world, am struggling to balance work and family and am left feeling guilty for not spending time with my family. Perversely, I also find myself feeling guilty for not spending the time I want on marking and writing feedback, or on planning and resourcing a lesson, (often with things from my own home or which we have purchased with our own money).
The debate about how to improve the attractiveness of teaching as a profession is an old and ongoing one, and I look forward to hearing it discussed during Education Nation. When asked for his view on how the issue could be resolved, Professor Masters pointed out that it would require a series of deliberate policy decisions on a range of issues including teacher salaries, resourcing, and autonomy; as well as the number of admissions into ITE programs. Professor Masters noted that the countries which appear at the top of the international testing results, including Finland, limit the number of pre-service teachers each year. This article indicates that only one in ten applicants is successful in gaining entry into a Finnish ITE program.
There are also come clear benefits to restricting the number of entrants to ITE programs. You are also restricting the number of graduates, thereby helping to prevent what has happened here in Australia, where there is a glut of teachers who are unable to gain permanent employment due to the high number of graduates each year. Professor Masters’ final point was that an important factor in the perception of teaching is the academic rigour of the ITE program itself. I have written previously about my own ITE (part one can be found here), and I do believe that ITE programs, in general, can be improved, and look forward to hearing about that topic at Education Nation.
NAPLAN, which commences next Tuesday for Year Three, Five, Seven and Nine students Australia-wide, is an incredibly high-stakes testing process which has the potential to cause great anxiety and consternation amongst students, parents, teachers and policy-makers, and which invariably receives a great deal of attention in the media. When asked about why he thought NAPLAN moved from being a low-stakes test to what it is now, Professor Masters wrote that it is part of a deliberate strategy to improve performances through incentives.
These incentives appear to use the carrot and stick method, with some financial rewards for school improvement or, alternatively, the threat of intervention and sanction for poor performance, and yet, the international experience has demonstrated that school behaviour is changed when the stakes attached to tests are increased. This is shown by the annual breaches that occur during the administering NAPLAN tests, including cheating and inappropriate assistance by some teachers, and the way in which many schools prepare their students for NAPLAN, as indicated in this article. Further to this, the public release of NAPLAN allows parents to compare schools and can result in some schools losing students as parents opt to send their child to seemingly ‘better’ schools.
Professor Masters commented that high-quality tests are an important component of education, providing diagnostic data around topics or concepts that require attention, monitoring improvement over time and evaluating the effectiveness and impact of programs and interventions. The widely used Progressive Achievement Test (PAT) is an example of the kind of test that can be an invaluable part of a teacher’s toolkit.
I do agree with Professor Masters about the value of testing. At the beginning of this year, Stage Three students in my school all completed a series of diagnostic tests across reading, spelling, and mathematics. That data was invaluable in identifying those students who need additional assistance in particular areas, and plays a role in developing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) for some students, and also for discussions with parents about the student’s results and progress throughout the year. It will also play an important role in quantifying students’ growth across the year when those tests are re-administered at various points throughout the year.
My final question to Professor Masters was his advice to new teachers as they enter their classrooms pressured to ensure that their students to achieve high NAPLAN results. He responded that “[t]here are few things as important in schools as providing all students with sound foundations in literacy and numeracy.” Professor Masters’ belief that the goal should be to improve our students’ literacy and numeracy levels, and that if we do raise the NAPLAN results, it should be as a result of improved literacy and numeracy levels. The problem, he pointed out, is that NAPLAN scores can be increased in ways that do not lead to better literacy and numeracy levels.
I am grateful to Professor Masters for his time and willingness to engage in the interview process. I very much look forward to hearing him speak at Education Nation, where he is speaking to the title Addressing the five key challenges in school education that matter to you on day one. Professor Masters will also be joining Dennis Yarrington, Dr. Kenneth Wiltshire and Lila Mularczyk for a panel discussion about Student Testing on day two. If you have not yet registered for Education Nation, I would encourage you to do so by clicking here.
As always, my thanks for reading, particularly given the length of this article. Please feel free to contact me with any comments, questions or feedback via the comments section below or on Twitter.
For other articles in the Education Nation series, please click here.
Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.
– Attributed to John Dewey
I have sat down to write this particular article on a number of occasions and for various reasons, have ended up not doing so, however, I am determined to write it today and thus am staying back at school, with no, or rather no domestic, distractions. Whilst I checked out of social media, from an educating point of view, for the duration of the Christmas holidays, I was still perusing the various tweets and reading linked articles when they struck my fancy, e-mailing many of them to myself for later use.
I have written previously about Initial Teacher Education (my Musings on Initial Teacher Education series can be found here) and there have been some articles that have made for interesting reading around the topic of initial teacher education, as well as teaching in general, that I believe are worth discussing.
Greg Ashman (@greg_ashman) is someone whose style of writing I tend to enjoy reading, and his article The bad ideas that hold teachers back was no different. This particular article discussed, very briefly, the pedagogical practice of differentiation, citing it as seeming “…truthy enough…” but that ultimately, it does not have a solid bank of evidence supporting it. To demonstrate this, Greg included the below graphic:
It is an impressive looking graph, however, I am not conversant enough in statistical analysis to understand whether what is being represented is actually statistically significant. I understand enough to understand that I am looking at a graph that would appear to demonstrate that the greater the percentage of lower secondary (which I take to mean Years Seven to Nine) teachers who profess to differentiate by providing alternate work either frequently or in almost all lessons correlated to a lower PISA mathematics mean score in the 2012 iteration. Greg provided a link to a pdf file from the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented which he summed up as finding that:
“…the teachers weren’t doing it right. So it is either something that works if you have particularly talented teachers who can implement it – although this has not been demonstrated – or it is an idea that doesn’t work at all…”
I have mixed feelings regarding the concept of differentiation. I agree that in theory it does sound “…truthy enough…” but that in practice it often seems to result in learning opportunities of a far lower standard than the student needs (or, perhaps, is entitled to) or at the other end of the scale, fails to provide a sufficiently high challenge. I must note that at this point in my career, that I have not had a great range of exposure to how specific teachers differentiate specific skills, concepts or pieces of knowledge, and so I am drawing from a limited well, that being my own experience, which in this area feels like wandering in the dark, to a degree.
The next article I noted was also by Greg, and was titled A guide for new teachers. It contained a number of ideas and thoughts that I feel would be beneficial for new teachers to be aware of, and I think which the pre-service teacher I wrote about last year would have appreciated reading had I come across the article then.
The final article was regarding teacher qualifications, job shortages, and accreditation issues, which I believe I will leave for another time, as those issues are complex enough, and have the potential for a lengthy article in their own right. I am also conscious of the fact that it is now just after five pm and that I still have a number of other things I need to do before I go home.
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”
– Attributed to Nelson Mandela
This week, Monday 27th July – Friday 31st July, is Education Week in NSW schools, and the theme this year is ‘Celebrating Local Heroes.’ Schools have been encouraged to develop their alumni networks and celebrate their ‘local heroes’, including their local ANZAC / military heroes. Many schools, my own included, are opening the school to visitors from the community to highlight what is being achieved by the amazing public school teachers and students in the education system.
Our school is conducting a rolling showcase in the hall, spotlighting some particular talents and groups in our school. There will be a drama performance by some Stage One students, various musical and dance performances by students across Stages One, Two and Three, and parents will be able to rotate through their children’s classes during the two hour time period that the school is open.
What is your school doing for this week? I would like to hear the different approaches to Education Week that schools are taking.
“Do not underestimate the difference that you can make. You may be the only connection that a student makes during their schooling.”
– Jason Baldwin. Acting Director, Public Schools, Central Coast
Welcome back everyone, and my thanks for your understanding as to my break of last week. This article, and the next few articles, will focus on the staff development day that was hosted by Gosford Public School as a joint day between the members of the Gosford City Learning Community. Having had two nights of solid sleep over the weekend to catch up from my week in Canberra, I felt reasonably caught up on sleep and ready to go for a new term. Fortunately, my school, as with many schools, scheduled a staff development day for Monday of Week One this term. Staff from my school attended a joint event with the other schools that are part of the Gosford City Learning Community for a day of learning that was primarily focused on teaching boys. The welcome remarks were made by Mr John Anderson, Principal of Gosford PS, who offered an acknowledgement of country.
Following Mr Anderson was the acting Director Public Schools, Jason Baldwin. He delivered some interesting remarks about how schools are changing, offering some statistics that were both eye opening and disturbing. In 2009 there were 16,524 students living in out of home care, which had jumped to 18,300 by 2013. Similarly, the number of students with a disability has risen sixfold since 1987 and suicide is now the leading cause of deaths amongst teenagers, statistics which are more than a little disturbing. He closed by reminding us that we cannot underestimate the impact that we can have on a student, and that the connection we form with our students may be the only connection that that student forms throughout their schooling. This statement echoes, very strongly, the sentiments I spoke about in my Graduate Address and which are further articulated in my Teaching Philosophy.
We were then introduced to advertising guru and outspoken proponent for public education, Jane Caro who was delivering the keynote address under the title The strength of public education today. While I am familiar with Jane from her time on The Gruen Transfer and from following her on Twitter (@JaneCaro), I have not had the pleasure of hearing her speak previously and so was looking forward to hearing what Jane had to say.
Jane opened with a congratulation to Adrian Piccoli. As the current Education Minister in the NSW Government, he made the (apparently) shocking move to actually visit the country which is consistently ranked highest in international benchmarking regimes such as PISA and TIMMS to see what we could learn from their education system. What came from that was the discovery that back in the 1970s and 1980s, when the majority of the Western world was deciding that academic excellence should be the central concern of public education, Finland decided to put student well-being as the central concern.
Fast forward to the current global education climate, and there is a trend by the Western countries who adopted academic success as their keystone to plateau in international benchmarking tests, whilst Finland, which placed student welfare at the centre of their education system continues to grow. Jane commented that “it is the easiest thing in the world to create a highly educated elite…but the most difficult thing to do is to create a highly educated general public, and public education is the only institution that shoulders the burden of educating the general public.” This is an interesting point to me as most countries have a highly educated elite, whether it is the highly developed countries, or the tin-pot dictatorships, or the countries in between, they all have a highly educated elite. Where the difficulty ensues is in creating a general public that is highly educated.
You may question why society needs a highly educated general public when there are so many occupations that are highly important to a functioning society that do not appear to require more than a minimal education. Jane answered this unasked question by her statement that “public education is about democracy. If you are going to trust your citizenry with the body politic, then you must educate them. It is for this reason that public education is indivisible with democracy.”
Jane continued to speak about the importance of public education, decrying the current Government’s attempt’s to roll back the public education system, and turn it into a welfare system of last resort, and pointing out that this is a radical thing to do, but that the Government calls itself conservative. Jane also pointed out, on the back of a point regarding the recently leaked Education Funding Green Paper, that if wealthy parents are required to pay more for access to public education, than they would have every right and expectation to demand for greater focus for their children, and that this would come at the cost of other children.
Jane touched on the low morale amongst many in the public education sector, both staff and students, indicating that she didn’t think it was too much of a surprise that morale is considered by some to be lower than ever, and that cynicism is ever-rising, framing it as being the result of swinging-door politics. A Government will introduce an education program that is designed to lift, for arguments sake, literacy levels amongst young students, and it produces results, raising the hopes of both staff and student. Unfortunately, when the government changes, they de-fund that program in favour of something else, dashing those same hopes that have just recently been raised. Once broken, hopes take longer to revive and students (and teachers) take substantially longer to re-engage. Hope can only be raised and subsequently dashed, before cynicism, and for some, bitterness, sets in, hearkening back to the old adage, once bitten, twice shy.
Jane next spoke about the public v private debate, indicating research (un-cited during the keynote, but given Jane’s background, I trust that she can produce the report) that students from comprehensive public schools, once they attend university outperform their private or selective schools colleagues by an average of five marks, and on top of that, are more likely to complete their degree and to graduate. Jane added that her theory for this, with some tongue-in-cheek, is that those students coming from a comprehensive public education background find it easier to transition from one under-funded and under-resourced institution to another under-funded and under-resourced institution. On contrast, those students who attend university from private or selective schools are transitioning from well-funded and well-resourced institutions to an under-funded and under-resourced institution and subsequently find it more difficult to adjust to this new scenario, not having previously encountered anything like it.
Jane posited, continuing along this train of thought, that we have a generation of parents who fear three things:
Jane related stories from deciding which schools to send her own children, two daughters, to. She was told, outright, by a private school that if she sent her two daughters to a public high school that they would end up on drugs and other assorted and equally outrageous results of public education. Jane indicated that she sees private education as being fear-based, and leveraging on the three things that parents fear. If you send Little Johnny to the Local High School he will end up on drugs and in Juvenile Detention, but if you send him here, to this safe well-funded and well-resourced private educational institution, then he will succeed in life.
Is that not what all parents want for their child’s life? Success and happiness? Private schools are about parents fear of not doing the best, or of not doing enough for their children. Public schools, Jane counters, are about hope, because in a public education system every child has potential, irrespective of their background of socioeconomic status. Jane commented that if you, as an educator, regardless of your position on the hierarchical ladder, can soothe a parents fear and anxiety about their child, then this will flow-on to reduce the child’s fear and anxiety, which will then affect the classroom and the learning outcomes of our students.
Jane closed with two final points. The first was that social media and online news sources now have more influence than mainstream news sources such as radio, television and newspaper, particularly in anything that we are emotionally invested in, which includes education. Finally, Jane elucidated that our classroom’s are often seen by students as an oasis of normalcy and lucidity in a chaotic world and that we can strengthen that sensation, which often is then reflected in our students learning outcomes by making a promise to our students:
“there is nothing I can do about what happens outside of the school. But I make a commitment to you that everything that happens in the school, you will be given the reasoning. You might not like it, but you will understand it.”
Students, and indeed many adults (I include myself in this), often find it easier to engage with or buy into something when the why of that thing is understood. You may have heard students ask “why do we need to learn this?” If you can outline the why, and not merely state that it is part of the curriculum, but why it will be useful for them in life, than you will likely find that they engage more willingly and more deeply in the learning process.
Jane ended her speech there, and answered a few questions from the floor. I found Jane to be highly engaging to listen to, and to speak with a lot of common sense. Her rhetoric was engaging without being superfluous, and I would encourage you to take the opportunity to hear her speak, should it present itself to you.
Thank you for reading as always, and I would like to hear from anyone who has thoughts on the public v private education debate, particularly around the points that Jane mentioned as indicates in this article.