- mathophobia amongst many students and teachers - see the incredible quote below that many primary teachers can't do grade 5 maths
- Low status of teaching as a profession and often low quality of new teachers, who have never had very strong content knowledge
- burnout of older teachers, after years of teaching 5 lines to often difficult classes
- although our system (Private / government) produces some high quality students we have to acknowledge the long tail of under-achievement in Australian schools
(the need for) Very strong content knowledge, particularly in English and maths. The lack of content knowledge has been a criticism of many existing teachers and teacher education degrees. Applicants to be Associate Teachers would be expected to arrive with outstanding content knowledge. As Dr Lawrence Ingvarsen from the Australian Council of Educational Research has stated: “The research indicates that you cannot use what are known to be effective teaching techniques unless you do understand the content deeply.” (page 9) ...I did a search on the Louden reference and found more detail in this article from July 2007, in The Australian:
It is frequently noted that the quality of aspiring teachers has been in decline in the last few decades, particularly at the primary level... Professor Louden from the University of Western Australia notes that a “very large proportion of students [doing combined education degrees] cannot do grade 5 maths, because they have not learnt maths at school and they became primary teachers because it is something you can do without being any good at maths.” The National Inquiry into the Teaching of Literacy found that “participants [education faculty members] reported that many students lacked the literacy skills required to be effective teachers of reading. These students needed help to develop their foundational literacy skills.” (page 11)
He said poor maths skills among primary school teachers were an example of the underlying problem of the quality of those entering the education system.With more searching I found this summary of current government thinking from a 2007 Senate Inquiry into the Quality of school education (162 pp):
While the educational debate centred on curriculum, the real challenge was to reverse the slide in the quality of people entering the profession.
Professor Louden said changing curriculums would not improve standards. "What drives improvement in schooling is teachers, one by one. It is not even good schools; it is good teachers. Good schools are schools with lots of good teachers," he said.
While half of the variance in school performance was due to the individual student, he said one-third was due to the teacher a student had in a year, 10 per cent year-on-year was in the student's socio-economic background and 5-10 per cent in the school, over and above the teacher.
"The underlying problem is that the social status of teaching has dropped dramatically," he said. "Every occupation that has been invented since 1970 is a graduate occupation and has gone into the occupational hierarchy above teaching.
"When I was a boy, most accountants did not have degrees. Now the biggest faculty in every university is a commerce faculty, and they are all people who are expecting to earn more and have higher social status than teaching."
While the top Australian students were among the best in the world, the system was failing those in the bottom half.
"Throughout the bottom half of kids, we just do not have it right anywhere beyond Years 3 or 4," he said. "Kids in the bottom quartile of mathematics performance at Year 5 probably learn no more mathematics, although they do another five years of mathematics.
Convincing evidence presented to the committee has stressed the centrality of good teaching as the factor which has most bearing on educational quality. Good teachers are the key to good performance. Good schools are those which are made up of good teachers. The committee has found that at a time of growing consensus on curriculum improvements, the threat to improved standards may result from the insufficient numbers of more able recruits to the teaching profession, and the failure of employing authorities to place a sufficiently high priority on measures which maintain the professional and intellectual vigour of teachers. This is particularly so in the case of teachers who have been at the chalkface for many years and whose sense of vocation is under strain.
It appears that in some respects the training offered to teachers does not match the needs of schools for more rigorous and challenging teaching. While this may in part be attributed to declining entry standards to teaching, the committee notes that there is some dissatisfaction with the ability of many new teachers to cope with the challenges of teaching. A great deal of emphasis has been placed recently on improving the experience of practise teaching, including its duration, vis-à-vis the time spent on more theoretical aspects of training. This committee has other concerns. It believes that many new teachers have insufficient grounding in the actual subject content they are teaching. That is, they do not know enough history, have limited appreciation of literature through not reading enough of it, and are ignorant of, and frightened of, mathematics and science. This has a direct effect on the quality of educational outcomes because it can impede student intellectual growth.
Schools are our most public institutions. They are the most vulnerable to criticism and are often perceived as failing in their mission. The committee agrees that much of this criticism is unfair, and based on misperceptions. It takes little account of the need for schools and teachers to accommodate and deal with students whose social conditioning, often in dysfunctional families, thwarts their willingness to learn and weakens their ambitions.
But often the criticism is not unfair. Schools and systems need to acknowledge that such criticism often result from informed observation of poor performance or neglect of students' leaning difficulties. The growth of skills and abilities may be stymied as much by the absence of challenge as by class disruption or slow progress of some students in a class. The failure to organise a school so as to maximise learning opportunities for all students partly explains the existence of the long tail of under-achievement which characterises the relative performance of Australian schools, compared to those in Canada, in the various international comparative surveys (page 15)