Holding Ken Wiltshire to the flame of his own promises

This week Ken Wiltshire, one of the two reviewers of the National Curriculum,  responded to the widespread concern about the quality and impartiality of the recently announced National Curriculum Review   Critics of school curriculum review too quick to perceive a threat instead of potential way forward.

In this article he promises a review that is professional, independent, balanced and robust based on a methodology that will be methodology comprehensive and objective.  This will include the appointment of experts  for each subject area to evaluate those components of the curriculum.

What is not to like about this?

Well there are a few problems still Mr Wiltshire.

The first most glaring problem is the other person with whom you will have to work.  Kevin Donnelly is one of the least professional, balanced or independent educational commentators I can think of in Australia today.  There is no evidence that he can or is capable of changing his spots.  But enough has already been said about this.

The second problem I have is about professionalism and respect. You tell us this will be a professional process.  Now I do assume that being professional includes being respectful.  But your use of the adjective ‘disgruntled’ to describe a letter of concern from over 150 professional educators does make we wonder.  Can you commit to respectful too perhaps?

There is one final thing Mr Wiltshire.  Would you be willing to add the word ‘open’ to your list of promises?  You encourage us all to contribute to the process but do not assure us our contributions will be made public.  Openness and transparency are features of all outstanding reviews in my book.  The Bradley Review of Higher Education and the Gonski Review are great examples of this.

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New Year Resolutions for Public Education Supporters

I have avoided reading ‘the 13 best’ or ‘the 10 most X of Y’ lists which seem to be quite the thing at this time of the year.

But today Lyndsay Connors sent me a link to this blog by John Kuhntz which included a list of the 5 most important things public educators in the US must do to maintain and build the push back which is building momentum across many US states.

We are not at this same point in the education politics cycle but our issues are no less critical.  Unless we build momentum on the implementation of needs based funding across schools we are in danger of losing out on this once in a life-time opportunity to achieve this long held principle.

At the same time there are ominous signs that after much tossing and wriggling and saying very little of substance, Education Minister Christopher Pyne is finally developing his own education policy agenda.  It will almost certainly not be evidence based, or conducive to building quality or equity.

We know already some of its focus areas and dimensions:

  • Make more schools like autonomous non-Government schools because they are the gold standard and competition breeds perfection.
  • Get rid of NAPLAN reporting but increase testing and its stakes by using it to evaluate and reward or punish teachers,
  • Roll back the national curriculum and reinstitute the curriculum us baby boomers remember so well because we had to memorise it
  • Promote direct Instruction for the poor, the Indigenous and all the ‘other peoples children’

There is a lot at stake here so I think we need to resolve to get active in 2014 more than ever.  Kuhntz’s list is a pretty good starting point for us.   So here it is

1. Be active online, in the papers, and in your state capital. This is highly relevant to Australia. One derivative poorly referenced paper from a well funded or even self-styled ‘pretend’ Institute and the media saturation reverberates for days.  They have the in with media and many have the funds to run high profile seminars and launches.

We need to be active in blogs, media comments, social media, letters to the editor, and article writing and sharing.  We need to make our views and the strength of our presence known whenever there are elections, community consultations or other forms of political engagement.

We need to anticipate new developments and get ahead of the game preparing considered responses.

And even though it is tiring and seems pointless we also need to respond to the pop phrases and concepts that are based on very little of substance but all too often pass uncontested and start to sound obvious and factual.  ‘More money wont help’, ‘teacher quality is all that matters’ small class sizes are a waste of our dollar’ ‘public schools are failing’ and so on– how many times do we hear this sort of nonsense and just shrug.

2. Be active locally. I must admit I had not considered this issue and our school board politics is vastly different. However the move to Independent public schools will mean that there may be a risk that special interest groups of parents or others will decide to exercise and undue influence on local schools.  Schools could be vulnerable to being captured by special interest groups who may also see it in their interest to push out other groups of students and parents.

3. Embrace your expertise. One of the exciting developments in the US is the establishment of networks of practicing teachers who are voicing their concerns and sharing their ‘ expert’ and important grounded perspectives on education.  Organisations like the Network for Public Education and The Educators Room put teachers and principals at the centre.

This happens to some extent in Australia with the twitter handle @edutweetoz and through principals and professional networks.  We could benefit from hearing more from teachers about what it means to struggle in poorly resourced high need schools, how they juggle the competing demands of quality learning and test preparedness, and so on.  As Kuhntz reminds us “If educators are to have an impact, they must have a voice. If they are to have a voice, they must be willing to take the microphone from people who feel they are entitled to hold it. And the same goes for students. Teachers need to embrace the student voice movement. Democracy comes from the people most affected by policy–it isn’t done to them–and in education, that’s the students.”

4. Join others. Relatedly, if you are serious about protecting the promise of public education, you have little choice but to join others in holding back the tide of corporate reform. There is diversity in the pro-public education camp. If you are progressive, there is a place for you. If you are conservative, there is a place for you. If you support or oppose the Common Core, there is a place for you. Some organizations and individuals standing together differ on their opinions about well-regulated charter schools. Some differ in their opinions about how much standardized testing is appropriate. Those of us on the front lines of defending the promise of public education are not a monolith. What binds us together is our shared desire to prevent the devaluing of public education via reckless rhetoric and demeaning and unfair policies.

This is really a call for more public education campaigners from all walks of life to stop watching from the margins, or being lone rangers and to get active in the organisations you associate with or find and organization to join.  It could be a parent lobby group, a professional association, the Union, a specific purpose coalition, a relevant not for profit or your work.

5. Be great. The best defense of the public education system is a strong public education system. Yes, it feels to many of us that we are being sabotaged and set up to fail. Yes, many of us have a hard time doubting that the point of all the testing is to prove that we stink. But be that as it may, we have the opportunity day after day to go into our classrooms and our administrative offices and invest ourselves in activities that make a difference in children’s lives. When we do our jobs well, we win the support of our communities and our parents and students. And, to butcher-phrase an Abraham Lincoln quote often used by the incomparable Jamie Vollmer, “if public opinion is with us, we can’t lose; if it against us, we can’t win.” Public opinion starts in your classroom or office. There are obstacles–especially in America’s poorest communities–that often seem impossible for teachers to overcome. But we must give our all and do our very best. We must show the world that we aren’t afraid of accountability and that, in fact, we embrace something far greater: responsibility. (H/T Pasi Sahlberg).

 

So does anyone want to add to or amend this list?