So Andrew Penfold shows his true colours and why I am not surprised.

According to The Australian, Andrew Penfold has broken ranks with all the other members of the PM’s Indigenous Council to support the proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act.

So what can we make of this?  Is Penfold brave – standing up to un-thought-through conventional wisdom? Or is he ignorant and dangerously misinformed?

My take is that he is ignorant.  His world is a privileged sheltered space and his experience of how racism affects Indigenous people is informed – or not informed –  by his sheltered context.

Now I am not a scholar of human rights, the RDA and the debate around free speech and I accept that there may be areas of the RDA that could benefit from a careful review. 

For example, Sara Joseph who is an expert has argued here that the outlawing of talk that offends or insults may tip the balance between free speech and race discrimination too far.  But in saying this she also stresses that this is a view that has not been formed based on personal experience of being subjected to racially offensive language.  She also argues that the courts have never taken a stringent position in interpreting this provision, so the driver to change it is not really there (note: it was not the provision that Bolt contravened).

But there are real problems with the current exposure draft and Sara Joseph’s article is a nice summary of the problems, and worth a careful read.

However, it is clear to me that Penfold has not read Joseph’s article or Waleed Aly’s very damming piece

So how did this upper middle class business man who was educated at elite private schools earn a place on the PM’s Indigenous Council, and an AO to boot, just this year.

Andrew Penfold is widely known as the man who established the Australian Indigenous Education Foundation (AIEF) and its associated Indigenous Scholarship to elite private schools scheme.  He is well known because the media has been saturated by feel good stories about individual Indigenous children who have been rescued from a remote backwater and who are now destined for greatness. Penfold himself has authored many of these stories.

Now I am not that concerned about a successful business man setting up a charity that funds poor traditionally living Indigenous kids to attend Australia’s most elite schools, although I do have concerns about it.

My concerns are as follows:

Firstly, this is the venture that has earned Penfold a seat at the PM’s Indigenous Council.  Now we have been told that this Council will have a big influence on Indigenous policy development and program implementation in Australia.  What Penfold has established is, in policy terms, a minor add-on program.  It hardly qualifies him as an expert in policy directions that are designed to overcome disadvantage not for the clever few raked from the rubble, but for all Indigenous people.  His willingness to split with the Council so early in the piece over something that his background makes him uniquely unqualified to speak about, relative to other Council members, confirms my concerns about his suitability for this role

Secondly, his work and his project concern me because he has convinced the Australian Government to donate $20 million to his fund with absolutely no strings attached.  I am presuming that these funds have come out of the very small program dollars currently allocated to Indigenous education. 

When a program secures Government funding it must be accountable to a different set of requirements. What should our Government be asking about this feel good work?

I wrote about Andrew Penfold and his feel good but suspect work to ‘save’ Indigenous children one by one here. I don’t plan to repeat all the arguments about why this is a problem here because this article is much more about why I question Andrew Penfold’s suitability for a seat at the PM’s Indigenous Council table.

So here it is.  Andrew Penfold has justified why the Australian Government should fund his program as follows

We agree that governments must invest in improving education results for all Indigenous students in all schools, but the evidence is unambiguous – for decades billions of dollars a year has been spent by state and federal governments on Indigenous programs that their own departments and officials have described as ‘disappointing at best and appalling at worst’ and making no difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. So if the rhetoric about evidence-based policy means anything, it’s critical that AIEF’s proven, scalable and sustainable model continues to be supported.

There you have it.  While Governments should be prioritizing investments that improve the outcomes for Indigenous students across the board, history tells us that this is a waste of money because it hasn’t worked.  So my solution is to have the Government invest in improving educational outcomes for the few and forget about the rest.  And as for the claim that his program is scalable – well – the limitations are rather obvious.

This is a chilling piece of logic.

Basically, if you are indigenous and living in a remote community, welcome to the lottery – if you win a scholarship and are flown away to an elite school, you will learn to read and can expect to live a rich rewarding life, but if you don’t, good luck. This feels like a future dystopia in a speculative fiction novel.

It is the Government’s responsibility to govern for all Australians. No Government can justify diverting the small amount of funds dedicated to meeting the educational needs of Australia’s most seriously disadvantaged students to fund a lucky win-the-lottery ticket to a privileged life – a rags to riches scenario for a few.

To say that the Government should walk away from its responsibilities for overcoming Indigenous disadvantage for all Indigenous Australians and invest in a privileged lucky few is an outrage, and must be challenged. It should not be applauded or honoured with positions on influential councils, generous untied Government funds, or Australia Day Honours.

But this is the sort of logic that comes from looking at all issues, not in structural terms but in individualistic terms.  Andrew Penfold is on the record as saying that he developed his Indigenous scholarships program because he was given an opportunity to go to an elite boarding school and it was the making of him.  He does not appear to have considered that his unique experience is not universally applicable with the same results.

Perhaps this makes some sense of his position on the RDA amendments.  Andrew Penfold has not been at the raw end of racial discrimination and racial vilification, so his consideration of these matters is based on his limited individual experience. It is just a philosophical issue to him.  It is to Sarah Joseph too, but even she, an expert in these matters, has been honest enough to acknowledge that not having the personal experience of racial discrimination is a possible limitation to her understanding of these sensitive and complex matters.

I do hope some judicious behind-the-scenes conversation at Council meetings with Andrew Penfold will extent his world view, but I am not optimistic.

Please Julia Gillard Don’t let Bill Gates Undermine the Work of AITSL

Sub Title:  We must not sacrifice teacher self-reflection and ‘safe’ learning to the god of performativity

In an article on this blog a few weeks ago I warned about the important difference between the  work that the Australian Institute of Teaching and School Leadership (AITSL) is doing to develop high quality and useful tools to support teacher initiated professional learning, development, peer mentoring and coaching  and what Bill Gates would like to do with such tools.

Bill Gates met with the PM yesterday and will be watched by millions on QandA tonight.  If he talks about  his TEDX message about the value of videos of teachers in classrooms, student feedback instruments, portfolios of teachers work, walkthroughs or other tools for ‘measuring’  or ‘ judging’ teacher performance for rewards or for compulsory performance review processes,  think about what he is actually saying.

He is saying that the best way to improve teacher quality and drive improved teacher performance is to test it/ assess it/ judge it/ weigh it.   Does this ring any bells?

Now I ask everyone to think about this sort of policy approach from the point of view of a newish teacher.  Would  you improve more in a system a) that encourages a pro-active  teacher initiated approach to professional development with high levels of peer collaboration, opportunities for self reflection and peer discussion on problems and areas for development using the latest high quality support tools,  or b) in a system that used all these same tools to measure you  – where every measurement was recorded in a performance grading process?.  Would you be enthusiastic about using video of your teaching or a student feedback survey on your semester project in order to reflect and hone your professional craft if you knew it could then be taken and used for formal performance assessment process which go into your records for all time?

Its a no brainer.  If you want to built the professional knowledge and skills of teachers then work with them, support them, give them a ‘safe place’ where development needs can be acknowledged along with high quality frameworks to support this.

There will always be a small proportion who will not rise to the challenge – who are probably in the wrong profession but lets not design a performance improvement framework around ‘weeding out the bad’.  This lowest common denominator approach sabotages the very goals of improvement.  The best way to manage this problem is to focus on school leadership.

Tony Mackay  Chair of AITSL wrote about this here, rather more tactfully and only recently

Australia is not a basket case in school reform. We have achieved something no other nation has so comprehensively managed: Australia is one of the first countries in the world to have a national set of professional standards to improve teaching in schools.

 Others have tried to develop national standards and failed. We have done it, getting the education sector – federal, state and territory governments, universities, non-government schools, employer groups and unions – to reach agreement on an end-to-end system for teacher quality.

 No other country possesses an exactly equivalent body to AITSL. Every few weeks the institute receives inquiries from overseas governments and education authorities wanting to know how Australia managed to get agreement on national standards from so many disparate groups involved in schooling. They have come from as far afield as the New York City school system, the Canadian province of British Columbia, Scotland, the Middle East and elsewhere.

 So how did AITSL achieve what has eluded our overseas colleagues? We …. learnt from [others] mistakes. …

Mandated standards will never work unless you get school systems and teachers on board to make them work. So we listened to teachers and school leaders. We set up a comprehensive national network of advisory groups, public seminars, forums and focus groups. We involved 6000 teachers and school principals in helping us shape the standards.

Undermine this at your peril.

JULIA PLEASE EXPLAIN – an example of what?

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gil...

English: Prime Minister of Australia Julia Gillard at a Q & A Session in Rooty Hill, New South Wales (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This week, like many concerned citizens following the Gonski developments, or lack thereof, I read the text of Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s speech to the Association of Heads of Independent Schools Conference.

While there were some worrying statements, the one that everyone is quoting goes like this:

“I’ve never looked at a big independent school in an established suburb and thought ‘That’s not fair’. I look at a big independent school in an established suburb and think ‘That’s a great example’.”

What does this mean?  A great example of what exactly?

One possible meaning is that our Prime Minister has a radical egalitarian vision going well beyond Gonski, or, for that matter, any previous proponents of school funding reform.  She is saying that the lush grounds, the well maintained housing stock, swimming pools and fully equipped facilities and classrooms in the wealthiest of independent schools in Australia sets the example we must follow for all schools.

By contrast, Gonski sets the resource standard at a level one might find in a school in a middle class suburb where most children are successful above national minimum benchmarks in NAPLAN literacy tests.  This is below the standard of the wealthiest of Government schools and far below the wealthiest of independent schools.

And the $5 Billion figure quoted in Gonski is an estimate of what it would cost, using 2009 data, to bring all schools up to this middle rank standard with additional allocation based on need.

Has the drive by a wealthy independent school given our prime minister a rush of blood to the head? Is she now going to find a way to ensure that “this great example” sets the standards for all schools? And if this is the base standard – or the standard for a sound education for our most advantaged children then there would still be a strong case for additional needs based funding. However if this is the governments proposal I will even give up campaigning for additional needs based funding.

If schools in the outer west in Melbourne and Sydney and in Arnhem Land had access to the kind of resources enjoyed by Kings School, Riverview, or Carey Baptist, it would be possible to set up the full range of culturally relevant wrap around services to support children dealing with the overwhelming challenges that go with being disadvantaged and living in a disadvantaged community. Teachers would not be able to be cherry picked by the independent sector through the lure of school provided accommodation, generous remuneration packages and other perks from capital investments.

If schools in the middle class suburbs of Northcote in Melbourne, Leichhardt in Sydney and Garran in Canberra were of an equivalent standard, the many parents who opt out of the Government system might stay, ensuring a socially mixed school community with articulate powerful parents to advocate on its behalf. And of course the greater the social mix of the school the greater the educational learning benefits, not just for the most disadvantaged, but for all students.

Our school choice scenario would be a little fairer.

However the alternative is that our Prime Minister might be saying ‘that is a great example’ of schooling for the children of our wealthiest and most privileged. We should support that because they deserve this.’

Is she echoing the values of that the old hymn ‘ All Things Bright and Beautiful’

 The rich man in his castle,

The poor man at his gate,

God made them, high or lowly,

And ordered their estate

Is her comment indirectly, or even unknowingly, referring to the rightness of the current set up – because it conforms to a deeply embedded sense of a ‘natural order’, where there are rulers and others.  If so it is a far cry from the vision and legacy of Sir Henry Parkes and many of our founders.

Education in Australia was designed to be compulsory not just as an individual market good, but as an essential social or public good – in the public interest. This is because the benefits of education to each individual aggregate to strengthen communities, the polity and workplaces. Universal provision was provided in order equip all future citizens, workers, parents, and community members to contribute to our social democracy and our economy.

As early as 1869 Henry Parkes articulated this vision

 …We are endeavouring to supply the means of sound instruction to those who, in a very few years, are to constitute the strength of the country…a Public school system in any country is an essential part of its institutions

Whatever may be our form of Government … Let us by every means in our power take care that the children of the country grow up under such a sound and enlightened system of instruction, that they will consider the dearest of all possessions the free exercise of their own judgment in the secular affairs of life, and that each man will shrink from being subservient to any other man or earthly power (my emphasis).

Neither of these explanations sound likely to me.  The PM is not an education revolutionary – her alliance with the worst of US corporate education reforms suggests that this is not the case.  More importantly, she knows we could never afford the public investment it would require to bring schools up to the standards of our wealthiest schools.

But the idea that the PM is an apologist for the current state of inequality doesn’t seem likely to me either.

I may have written some of this tongue-in-cheek but I am deadly serious when I say I have no idea what on earth Julia Gillard means when she says that the wondrous facilities and resources enjoyed by our luckiest of children at our wealthiest of schools is a great example.

An example of what exactly? After all she did not just look and admire, she promised them increased public funding, as a national priority.  And that demands a please explain.


Two D.C. school reform events, competing visions – D.C. Schools Insider – The Washington Post

The two Washington DC meetings described in this article  Two D.C. school reform events, competing visions – D.C. Schools Insider – The Washington Post. say it all.  In the one meeting we have the wealthy, the powerful sitting down to a silver service dinner with high profile speakers celebrating their successes in changing the educational landscape in the territory through their privatisation,choice and charters agenda.  They are doing this of course for the poor and dispossessed because they know best and they have millions of dollars behind them.

Note: For those readers not yet familiar with the agenda of a group of phanthropists that include The Walton Family, Eli Broad and Billl and Melinda Gates a useful starting point is Joanna Barkan’s article in Dissent, Winter 2011, called, Got Dough, How Billionaires rule our schools

Down the road we have the teachers, parents and activists in a spare meeting room.  They have come together out of a concern that the choice/charter trajectory will without intervention lead to a completely privatised autonomous school system and the death of the neighbourhood government school.

Just as I was reading this the mail arrived and it included a timely article by Adam Smith (Philanthropy and Schools – A Changing Paradigm, Education Review, May 2012) about philanthropy and schools in the Australian context.  Smith reminds us that the Gonski report (you remember that ?) recommended a larger role for philanthropy.

Now diehards like me are very gun-shy of anything that dilutes the clear responsibility of government to provide, for every citizen, no matter how rich or poor, a high quality education with opportunities for progress for all.  I have a fear that the more philanthropy puts in, the more Governments can retreat – this sort of funding is highly fungible and hard to keep track of.  I also have concerns about the possible undue interest and influence of large corporations who we did not vote for and can not vote out.

But Smith is more optimistic that there is an important role for philanthropy in schools and he has form in this space – good form – through a number of ventures including a role in the development of the NAB-FYA Schools First Program.  His article lays out the ground rules for philanthropic engagement which if heeded could help to avoid the kind of problems that are taking place in the US.

Perhaps we need a set of protocols for the philanthropy sector wishing to work with Australian schools, protocols that could help to mitigate the risk of the kind of ideological agendas being  prosecuted so aggressively and so successfully in the US

Views anyone?