Anti ed reformers make the case for PISA

In this article from the tireless Valerie Strauss of the Washington Post, Pasi Sahlberg and Andy Hargreaves respond to the open letter signed by dozens of researchers and academics from around the world to Andreas Schleicher, director of the Program of International Student Assessment, urging him to suspend administration of PISA until a new exam can be created.

The Sahlberg and Hargreaves arguments rests on the following:

1. Ignorance is not great and could have given corporate ed reformers an even easier ride

Just think for a moment what would global education look like if PISA had never been launched? There would be, as there was in the 1990s, a number of countries that mistakenly believed their education systems are the best in the world and should set the direction for other nations. Were it not for the fact that these weaker performing countries that include the United States and England have not been successful in PISA, the worldwide pressures for more market competition between schools, less university-based training for teachers, and more standardization of the curriculum, would have had a far easier ride.

The poor performance of Sweden after the implementation of their radical market choice program of for profit free schools would never have been outed.  Likewise the high performance of public education focussed Finland and to a lesser extent Canada would not have provided a very strong counter narrative.

2. PISA has enabled the OECD to shine a bright light on equity and to argue that equity and quality are not at odds:

It has put equity high up on the reform agenda. Without the data that PISA has generated over the years, calls for enhanced equity would not be part of the education policy conversation in the countries that have suffered from inequitable education systems, including the U.S. [and Australia].

However the authors do not let PISA off the hook on the many other issues raised by the group of academics and researchers.  In particular they raise serious concerns about the recent steps to put the tests into the hands of global corporate ed reformers, Pearson.

The conclude that the a) evidence provided by PISA is overwhelming and clear on the negatives of neoliberal education policies and b) that the negatives of PISA can be addressed by dealing with its problems not “knocking the PISA tower over”:

What PISA shows to the United States is that its current course of education policies that rely on competition, standardization, testing and privatization of public education is a wrong way. Our goal should not be to take PISA down, but to get it or something like it upright again, so that by using a range of criteria, and by using them in a fair and transparent way, we can identify and learn from the true high performers who are strong on equity as well as excellence, and on human development as well as tested achievement.

What do readers think?

Does you school or system have a comprehensive sexuality Education curriculum?

In this article Saskia De Melker, puts the case for a comprehensive sexuality education course starting with 4 year olds in kindergarten.

You’ll never hear an explicit reference to sex in a kindergarten class.In fact, the term for what’s being taught here is sexuality education rather than sex education. That’s because the goal is bigger than that, says Ineke van der Vlugt, an expert on youth sexual development for Rutgers WPF, the Dutch sexuality research institute behind the curriculum. It’s about having open, honest conversations about love and relationships.

By law, all primary school students in the Netherlands must receive some form of sexuality education. The system allows for flexibility in how it’s taught. But it must address certain core principles — among them, sexual diversity and sexual assertiveness. That means encouraging respect for all sexual preferences and helping students develop skills to protect against sexual coercion, intimidation and abuse. The underlying principle is straightforward: Sexual development is a normal process that all young people experience, and they have the right to frank, trustworthy information on the subject.

“There were societal concerns that sexualization in the media could be having a negative impact on kids,” van der Vlugt said. “We wanted to show that sexuality also has to do with respect, intimacy, and safety.”

Beyond risk prevention

The Dutch approach to sex ed has garnered international attention, largely because the Netherlands boasts some of the best outcomes when it comes to teen sexual health. On average, teens in the Netherlands do not have sex at an earlier age than those in other European countries or in the United States. Researchers found that among 12 to 25 year olds in the Netherlands, most say they had  “wanted and fun” first sexual experiences. By comparison, 66 percent of sexually active American teens surveyed said they wished that they had waited longer to have sex for the first time. When they do have sex, a Rutgers WPF study found that nine out of ten Dutch adolescents used contraceptives the first time, and  World Health Organization data shows that Dutch teens are among the top users of the birth control pill. According to the World Bank, the teen pregnancy rate in the Netherlands is one of the lowest in the world, five times lower than the U.S. Rates of HIV infection and sexually transmitted diseases are also low.

I can’t see that Australia is quite ready for this yet but, given how quickly we have moved our majority view about equal marriage, maybe this is not too far behind.

Now I was one of the 62 people who got ‘same sex married’ in the ACT when, for a very short space of time, this was legal.  It was overridden and our marriage is now invalid.  Even though I felt strongly enough to take this step, my view is that comprehensive sexuality education is even more important, not just for the reasons about sexual health practices outlined above, but because it may reduce the sense of isolation and marginalisation young people who don’t conform to gender typical and or heterosexual norms can experience in our schools.

I have heard it said that equal marriage is the last remaining barrier for LGBTI people but I beg to differ.  Providing a safe, inclusive environment for all children and young people to understand their developing selves: and their sexual and gender identities should also be on our political radar and no legislation is required to achieve this.

The scourge of motivational posters and the problem with pop psychology in the classroom


I liked this piece a lot. I used to work in the field of gender equity when raising girls self esteem was all the rage and it used to make me furious.
An esteemed colleague of mine Professor Sue Willis used to be particularly scathing about these popular programs, proclaiming to all who would hear that experiencing success in learning leads to self esteem but the other way round does not work.
I have noticed a slight return of this theme in feminism aimed at girls and young women and it really bothers me. What do others think?

Originally posted on chronotope:

Fifteen years ago I watched David Brent give this masterclass in motivation. This was before I started teaching, and when I entered the profession I was horrified to learn that this kind of stuff appeared to be embedded in so much of education from the Monday morning assembly to the top-down CPD session. I remember attending a leadership training day that featured one bit that was almost word for word, a carbon copy of the hotel role-play scene where Brent ‘fazes’ the trainer.

Nowhere is this pseudo-profundity more alive today than in social media, and the weapon of choice for this kind of stuff is the motivational poster. More than ever, we seem to be drowning under a tidal wave of guff exhorting both pupil and teacher to ‘reach for the stars’ and ‘be all that you can be.’ While seemingly benign and well intentioned, these missives in mediocrity signal a larger shift towards…

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What about the boys?

About a year ago, my son came home from preschool with the idea that “boys aren’t supposed to cry.” I was floored that my own son had gotten a hold of this message. These stereotypes impact and harm everyone. This is how I ended up a toy inventor.

These are the words of Laurel Wider, a psychotherapist, feminist and mother of a boy child in the following article

She puts me to shame because I feel like I have ranted for decades about how so-called boys’ toys, while critiqued when they encourage extreme gruesome violence, are rarely questioned for their lack of scope for play involving connectness, care and cooperation. But girls’ toys have been denigrated as sexist.

Over 30 years ago I wept with frustration as I watched my 5 year old boy, abruptly stop playing with his soft monkey that he had, up till school, loved, dressed, and parented. He still took his strawberry shortcake animals to school but only because he and another friend shared this attachment and used to sneak of together to play furtively. For obvioys and sad reasons this soon stopped.

I have also spent countless hours playing Ninja with my 4 year old grandson, trying to inject connectness, cooperation and care into what is usually a pretty classical smash-the-bad-guys play. He is very amenable to this adaptation but it really stretches my imagination to the limit.

But this mother just gets out there and creates her own solution.

Wilder is now the founder of a new startup called Wonder Crew, a new line of toys that brings connection and kindness into boys’ play.

So what did she cone up with and why?

I thought long and hard about how to create a “hybrid” toy, one that still resembled familiar play scenarios for boys, but also offered the opportunity to connect and nurture. So I came up with action fess-up) plus mini open-ended comic book. The formula: Child + Crewmate = Wonder Crew.

Right now we have one Crewmate, his name is Will and he comes in three adventures with a fourth in the 4_crewmates (1)pipeline: Superhero, Rockstar, Builder and Chef. These adventures were based on interviews with over 150 parents, educators and kids that spoke to me about play that they’ve observed/ kids’ favorite play scenarios.

At first I thought that these adventures were too stereotypical, but I’ve come to realize that it’s important to show that nurturing fits in with all kinds of play, even the kind that’s stereotypically masculine. And really the big picture idea is that anyone can be a connected, empathetic, nurturing person.

Play is how children learn, which means toys have the power to create change.

How does the school you teach at, or your child attends, support boys in play that emphasises more than win lose games, muscles, construction of things, power and aggression?

How can we offer a play experience that encourages, care, cooperation connection or even friendship? Are there resources that support this.

Think of the Child


My children grew up with a deep dark secret. Their mother (me) was/is a lesbian. They usually confessed this to their friends after they felt confident in the relationship. But school in the 80s and 90s really was a toxic sea of homophobia and I can quite understand their reluctance.

One day post school, my daughter was chatting with a group of her old class peers. One boy said that he really regretted not telling everyone that his mother was a lesbian. My daughter, astonished at this revelation said the same. The group then discussed how this news would have been treated and agreed that they would have been really cruel to both of them.
I felt an overwhelming sadness that both children endured living with this dark secret alone and unsupported. I can only hope that this is less likely today. But this requires making information like this safe and ordinary and standing up against campaign like ‘think of the children’

Originally posted on Boob in a Box:

My six-year-old son’s best friend is an amazing girl called Pascal. They have been solid buddies for almost three years now. They don’t attend the same school, but have regular play dates and sleepovers, where they play outside in the dirt with items pilfered from my kitchen concocting’ant stew’ (which doesn’t actually involve any ants), make indoor tents out of sheets strung over dining chairs, and put on puppet shows using old fridge boxes as the stage. They have tennis lessons together on a Friday, joyfullyrunning to meet each other at the courts and racing around in circles like a pair of excited puppies.

Their beautiful, innocent meeting of hearts and mindshas given rise to a broader friendship at the family level, which has been cemented through trips to the theatre, lunches and dinners out, birthday parties, and camping trips. The camping trips have been a real revelation, as anyone…

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All Teachers Should Be Trained To Overcome Their Hidden Biases

Originally posted on TIME:

Last week, two studies revealed that unexamined teacher biases are having a significant effect on girls’ education. The first found that gender stereotypes are negatively affecting girls’ math grades and positively affecting boys’. The second revealed how disproportionately penalized young black girls are for being assertive in classroom settings. Together, they make the clearest possible case for making it mandatory for teachers to be trained in spotting and striving to overcome their implicit biases.

The findings of the first study reveal both the short and long-term effects of primary school teachers’ implicit beliefs about gender on children’s math skills and ambitions. Researchers found that girls often score higher than boys on name-blind math tests, but once presented with recognizable boy and girl names on the same tests, teachers award higher scores to boys. The long-term effects are amplified by socioeconomic factors and family structure—girls from families where fathers were better…

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