Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SBS Insight: Should schools test results be made public?

I'll flag this for anyone who wants to watch and read in preparation for more detailed future analysis and discussion.

SBS Insight, 18th August 2009: Best and Worst Schools - Should schools test results be made public?
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This features Julia Gillard (Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education), Barry McGaw (Chair of the Australian Curriculum and Assessment Authority), Brian Caldwell, Joel Klein (Chancellor of the New York City Department of Education) and others in a discussion about the Australian Labour Party Government policy to publish school performance on line at the end of this year

Some of the to and fro in this discussion is very interesting and provides a good starting point for a deeper analysis

Although part of the Gillard critique of schools is legitimate her analysis consists mainly of motherhood statements ("we will be there with resources ...", etc.) and the solution of publishing test results, which will lead to media outlets constructing league tables of schools, will not improve things.

Some issues raised need to be discussed in more depth:
  • the problematic notion of comparing Like Schools (first it is not possible for many schools; second the whole notion of Like Schools is accepting inequality to start with - some schools are so Unlike that comparisons are pointless)
  • the claim that smaller class sizes do not make a difference
  • the Finland comparison articulated by Brian Caldwell
  • Teach for Australia
  • a fascinating exchange between Mary-Ellen Betts and Joel Klein about the New York experience
  • how the media has already and will sensationalize complex issues - the editor of the Hobart Mercury was exposed here as a namer and shamer and was seen as ridiculous in his denial of this
At the end, the moderator, Jenny Brockie, did challenge critics of the Gillard policies to voice their alternatives. I think the alternative arises out of a correct analysis and I can provide a thumbnail here.

The problem is social class, that disadvantage does not arise alone from school and so cannot be fixed alone by school or teachers. In reformist terms, to make a real impact would require a co-ordinated effort involving:
  • massive early intervention in cases where parents are not willing or capable of helping with their children's education
  • raising the status and qualifications of teachers - Caldwell makes valid points wrt Finland requiring teachers to have a Masters Degree
  • 1:1 assistance in the early years when children fall behind
  • government intervention in welfare policy in cases where parents provide destructive learning environment for children, following the lead from Noel Pearson wrt indigenous policy
Rather than providing real answers the Gillard solution is attempting to leverage all or most of the responsibility of the problem onto teachers. Her talk of "being there" and providing extra resources is mainly rhetoric. It is true that schools have problems with under performing teachers ("deadwood") but that is mainly a representation of a far broader problem - the status and respect of education in Australian society. That broader problem is a government responsibility not just a responsibility to be passed onto teachers and schools.

There are votes in this - attempting to do it on the cheap and blaming teachers for the failure of government. Politicians have to be seen as doing something and for Julia and Labour that something is the "education revolution", an empty phrase which she uses far too much.

In this regard the most opportunist and disgusting rhetoric was that provided by Barry McGaw right at the start of Part 3 of the online video where he criticises the counsel of despair of those who claim that socio-economic disadvantage cannot be overcome and promotes himself as someone who is doing something effective about it.

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