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?

 

 

If Independent Government Schools are the answer: what is the question?

Pyne believes that introducing Independent public schools across Australia will bring significant benefits to these schools and their communities.

Yesterday The Conversation published its fact checker that concluded that the claims to increased productivity and efficiency as well as increased student outcomes have no basis in evidence.

While I agree with this, I think this was a cautious assessment that drew its areas for consideration too narrowly. In this post I focus on some of the more concerning aspects about the IPS system that were not considered by the fact checker.

Claims of improved student outcomes – treatment of the research

But first a brief comments on the claims that were considered.  The fact checker, in looking at overseas evidence of schooling set ups that have similarities to IP schools, looked at Charter schools in the US.   It drew from the 2013 CREDO Charter Schools study of the comparative student learning effects of Charter Schools.  This report concluded that there were some comparative learning outcomes improvements but that they were non-significant in nature.  Most media headlines reported in terms of Charters are performing slightly better than public schools

What I find interesting about this is how this non-significant difference is treated.   The Great Lakes Centre for Research recent Review of the CRDEO study makes this point

 The most important results of the study…are differences of 0.01 or 0.02 standard deviation units, and even the largest effect size reported are on the order of 0.07 standard deviations. 

Hanushek has described an effect size of 0.20 standard deviation for Tennessee’s class size reform as ‘relatively small’ considering the nature of the intervention.

So there you have it – an effect size that is tiny- very tiny – is hailed as a small improvement justifying this large scale reform.  However it is much smaller that the effect size attributed to smaller class sizes by Hanushek, who led the campaign to oppose class sizes because, the effect size is too small.

The logic behind autonomous schools

To go beyond the fact checker scope it is necessary to dig behind the claims.  Pyne is arguing that Australia has invested strongly into non-Government education and it is working well for Australia.  He notes that we are unusual in our high levels of investment in non-government schools relative to other OECD countries – so we must see it as a public good.

He is asking the reader to assume that non-Government school enrolments skyrocketed over the years of the Howard regime just because it was a great idea – totally demand driven. But I won’t chase down this particular rabbit hole here.

So, says Pyne, we have these great institutions that work well, so lets get a piece of this into the public education system.  This implies without any evidence that the public system is not working so well.

So what he is borrowing from the non-Government system?  Is it the great facilities, or the ability to enrol students as they see fit, or their ability to charge fees or their superior levels of per pupil funding.  No – because non-Government schools can only selectively enrol students and charge fees because there are government schools that must then pick up all the non selected students, and provide a free education

What he is picking up, is the stand-alone school concept, minus the generous funding – a school with a bucket of money to do its business, responsible to a board and able to make all its own decisions. This will, he argues, be more efficient, will encourage bold new thinking and innovation, and will give the community much more say over spending priorities.

It is interesting to note that in the negotiations over Gonski the non-Government sectors successfully argued for additional systemic funding to better support their stand alone idealised schools. Maybe, just maybe, stand-alone models are not all they claim to be.

The previous WA Education Minister, Barnett justified the WA model of IP schools in terms of increasing competition and variety because maintaining all schools as equal was undesirable as it breeds mediocrity.

So to follow the logic pathway, IP schools will deliver better student outcomes, more productivity and efficiency because ‘stand alone schools’ will make all their own decisions about how they use their bucket of funds.  This will make them more competitive, they will spend the same amount of money more wisely and they will be more innovative.

So lets look at these claims

IP Schools will be more innovative

A WA press article recently profiled an IP school in WA that opted to become a marine biology school.  Fabulous example!  This school has reported that student engagement is high and that they have a big enrollment waiting list.  Students in its enrollment district have an automatic right of entry but students outside this district will have to move house or hope for an enrollment win.

However, NSW, arguably the most centralist state when it comes to its schooling has schools that specialize in agriculture, in performing arts, in technology, in sports, in languages.  There are schools with Opportunity Classes and the Board of Studies has a year 12 syllabus in Marine Studies.  Victoria has Government schools that offer Steiner programs, ACT has the Cooperative school and a bilingual French-Australian K-12 IB school.  There are networks of schools that adopt innovative approaches such as the Big Picture schools, IB schools, UN schools, Stronger Smarter school leaders and Dare to Lead schools. These are just a few examples I know about.  We don’t NEED IP schools to develop innovative schools within the government system.

Lyndsay Connors, argues that when she was involved with the National Schools Network – an initiative of the Hawke-Keating government intended to free schools from bureaucratic and union rules, the new and innovative practices that schools adopted, that she witnessed, were all ones that they could have done without special freedom.

She says this was also true of the self-governing schools created within the Victorian public system under the Kennett government. A few principals took the opportunity to create a governing school or board with some financial freedom, such as increasing salaries, but she says other innovations she knew of depended on extra funding.

Connors argues that with the same increase in funding, other schools could have implemented similar reforms, even while operating under a more centralised system.

And of course not all innovations are good innovations.  A school could decide that they could shift funds directed to ESL learners or special needs students to a program that the more influential members of the board might want – a violin program, or an artist in residence.  Having parents on boards does not always lead to decision that are in the best interests of all parents.  Articulate ‘entitled’ parents will always end up with more say.

And finally, lets remember that some of the innovations in Charter schools are very worrying – “no excuses” schools that feed the school-to-prison pipeline, or, schools with built-in churn as they rely almost solely on TFA teachers passing through education, en-route to a high profile future.

Pyne is allocating $70 million to this initiative.  This will give all participating schools about $47,000 as a one off allocation. So all the innovations will have to come from changing the staff profile in some way because that is where the vast bulk of the funds are spent.

 Competition improves schools

Proponents of this view argue that by giving parents the power to choose between schools and the power to influence schools, schools will work harder to earn more student enrollments.  This competition will improve all schools.

It is very clear that in WA, where only some schools are IP schools, this competition has been hard for non-IP schools.  Trevor Cobbold has posted extracts from principals about the effects of the IP arrangements on their work.  They talk about how the IP schools suck up all the highest rated teachers, while they are forced to staff based on redeployees.  And the more high needs the school, the more intense the problem.

Here are some of their comments:

 Basically, the better ranked teachers chose better schools. That is how it goes and that is how we get residualisation within schools. Low SES schools just cannot compete with the leafy greens, and they don’t even have to be leafy greens but good solid communities that support education and their kids in school. There was always a component of this, but IPS has really amplified it.

and

[this is not a low SES school]
Public education was once about equity, about being able to say that a child way up in Wyndham and a child at leafy Wembly Downs will get the same quality of teacher. Creating a privileged set of schools badly damages this concept.

Autonomy and Student Equity

The ACER evaluation of the impact of IP schools in Australia did not ask questions that might have exposed the impact of this set up on student equity.  They did not look at any changes in the enrollment share of IP and non-IP schools by student demographic characteristics, nor did they look at the changes to the staffing profiles of the schools.  In my view this is a pretty big omission – not necessarily of  ACER’s choosing.

This is the big issue with Pyne’s proposal in my view.  Trevor Cobbold makes this point

 Greater demand for IP schools amongst higher income families and increased flexibility of IP schools to select student enrolments is likely to lead to more social segregation between government schools in WA. Inevitably, it will mean increased differences in school results and more inequity. This is after all what a market in education is designed to do.

 Chris Bonner reiterates

But the bigger danger is that we risk losing the equity safeguards which our public school system, with all its claimed faults, currently provides. [Where schools can choose their own teachers] … the best will gravitate to the schools with the more valued location, easier to teach students and money.   ….there are no prizes for guessing which schools and communities will miss out.

 There are other hidden stings. Unless closely monitored, increasingly autonomous public schools will seek and gain greater control over student enrolments. I love them dearly but already there are few rules which get between many of our enterprising school principals and a desirable enrolment. The better placed autonomous public schools will join their private counterparts in applying both overt and covert enrolment discriminators, worsening the complex equity problems revealed by the Gonski review.

A blog post by Chris Lubienski about research into schools autonomy and equity in the New Zealand context gives us a glimpse into how enrolment manipulation is likely to happen over time if autonomous schools are introduced across the nation. He found that schools will actively pursuer policies of enrolment segregation if they are given a chance to do so and that autonomy initiatives provide just that sort of opportunity.  His findings are so important I am quoting from him at length:

Previous research has shown that schools in more affluent areas are more likely to be in greater demand, and thus more likely to have enrolment schemes.  The question we asked was whether these self-managing schools were using their autonomy to draw their zones in order to improve or restrict access for disadvantaged students.  To do this, we simply compared the level of affluence in a walkable radius around each school to the level of affluence in the boundaries that the schools themselves had drawn.  Certainly, school zones are not perfects circles, as their creators have to consider traffic patterns, geographic barriers, and the boundaries of competitors.  But, all things being equal, we could expect that deviations in those boundaries from a geometric radius around a school would be more or less equally likely to include or exclude more affluent neighborhoods.  

But that is not what we found.  Instead, there is evidence of rampant gerrymandering to exclude children from more disadvantaged neighborhoods.  In the cases where there is a statistically significant difference in the “deprivation level” of the population in a school’s drawn zone compared to its immediate area, over three-quarters of these self-managing school had drawn a zone that was significantly more affluent than their immediate vicinity. 

Moreover, as if to add insult to injury, more affluent schools are not only drawing boundaries to keep poor kids out, but in their promotional materials are bragging about their success in doing this.  A review of school websites shows that more affluent schools are much more likely to include official information about the number of disadvantaged students they serve. 

While we might find these types of practices to be distasteful for public schools that are funded by taxpayers to serve all students, in some ways, such actions are predictable (if indefensible).  After all, policymakers are creating education markets where schools recognize competitive incentives to shape their enrollments.  It should be no surprise that, given such autonomy and such incentives, they find creative ways to do just that. 

So if on Saturday we have a change of Government, this is what we can look forward to in our schools.  We will have a tiered system of schools, competing on a highly unequal basis and our already highly segregated education system will become even more so.

Ironically one of the best tools for highlighting the issues will be the data from MySchool.  Is this why Pyne thinks the publication of the NAPLAN results is a bad idea?  It sounds crazy but I do wonder.

 

 

School Autonomy and the ‘unwanted student enrolment’

A moving article by Travis Smiley PBS talk show host about the film “Education Under Arrest” depicts what happens to poor and minority students under ‘zero tolerance’ regimes being implemented as part of corporate education reforms in many US states.

It made me think about a problem I have predicting will become more relevant to Australia as we foolishly rush to embrace the ‘independent public schools’ model of WA.  The problem, put simply is this:

If schools are going to be made to compete more and more in the schooling market place this will enhance the ‘choice power’ of all students from desirable well educated ‘stable’ middle class families and reduce the ‘choice power’ of families in less stable, middle class circumstances.  Autonomous schools who want to increase their attractiveness in the market place and are in a position to do so will do what is in their power to attract desirable enrolments and keep at bay those considered less desirable.   One possible ‘ solution’ will be embracing notions such as ‘zero tolerance’.  How will this impact on ‘ ‘unwanted students’?

The film is based on interviews with kids who are victims of this policy.  Smiley’s account of the stories are sad and disturbing.

“We had to shut the cameras down for a moment. The testimony of the two New Orleans sisters, Kenyatta, 15, and Kennisha, 17, was too surreal, too emotional and too raw.

Kenyatta was involved in a fight at school that she didn’t start. Because of “zero tolerance” policies adopted at their high school and many others in America, Kenyatta was handcuffed, arrested and expelled. Kennisha, who tried to break up the fight, was also expelled….

One of every three teens arrested is arrested in school. It’s a punitive system based, in large part, on “zero tolerance” policies adopted in the late 1990s after the shocking school shootings in Columbine; a system that’s built a highway into prison, but barely a sidewalk out.

We took our cameras to Washington State, Louisiana, California and Missouri to meet and speak with those involved with educational and juvenile justice reform. Through their expertise and experiences we get a definitive look at how arresting children in school, sending them to court and then locking them away in jail impacts America’s dropout rate.

We shut the cameras down briefly after Kenyatta, with voice cracking and tears flowing, described her ordeal with a school district’s unyielding policy and her encounter with the juvenile justice system:

“It was completely unfair. I felt all of this was so wrong. ..”

Kevin Donnelly thinks that Fabianism is a dirty word.

 

We’ve put up with absolute rubbish from Kevin Donnelly for too long.  It’s time to look at his claims without the emotion and invective

In his latest rant, in The Australian, called, “Education saviour is pulling too many levers[1]”, Donnelly makes the following claims.

1.        Julia Gillard “in a desperate attempt” is going to use education as her lever to stay in power

Sadly, and a little reluctantly, I share concerns about the growing centrality of education in the future election debate.  Although chances are slim, I am pinning my hopes on progress on implementing the key components of the Gonski reforms prior to the election to the extent that they cannot easily be rolled back. 

The temptation to use it the Gonski implementation plan as an election carrot will not save the ALP but it will cost public schools dearly.

2.        Billions have been wasted on the Building the Education Revolution program that forced off-the-shelf, centrally mandated infrastructure on schools with little, if any, educational benefit;

Donnelly clearly has not read the ANAO Audit report into the BER[2], because it concludes that where there were poor decisions and centralized rollouts the culprits were state Governments not the Commonwealth and that to some extent this was inevitable given the justifiable time constraints.  May I also remind him that this was a GFC response first and foremost not an education initiative? The audit report makes this clear:

The Government decided on school based infrastructure spending because it had a number of elements that supported stimulus objectives

It also notes that:

The objectives of the BER program are, first, to provide economic stimulus through the rapid construction and refurbishment of school infrastructure and, second, to build learning environments to help children, families and communities participate in activities that will support achievement, develop learning potential and bring communities together[3]

For many schools the capital works were a godsend because the new hall or learning space gave them the capacity to do the thing that Donnelly most encourages – use new space to increase local innovative solutions to education challenges.  Indeed the audit report noted that over 95% of principals that responded to the ANAO survey indicated that the program provided something of ongoing value to their school and school community.[4]

3.        The computers in schools program delivered thousands and thousands of now out-of-date computers that schools can ill-afford to maintain or update.

I am not one to argue that ICT is the magic bullet answer to everything about teaching and learning in our schools.  However I am convinced that with well-informed computer literate teachers, who are also good teachers in the broader sense, students can only benefit.  I also acknowledge that a high level of computer literacy is now a core area of learning.   To achieve this even “out of currency” computer hardware will be better than no computers

Any ICT hardware rollout will result in out-of-date computers and a maintenance/update impost.  But the state of ICT infrastructure in our schools desperately needed to be addressed.  Is Donnelly really arguing that schools that do not have enough in their budgets to manage the whole-of-life costs of having computers should go without?  I wonder which schools these might be?

 

4.        Julia Gillard’s data fetish is forcing a centralised and inflexible accountability regime on schools, government and non-government, that is imposing a command and control regime on classrooms across the nation.

There is no doubt that we could benefit from a better accountability and reporting regime  – for all schools. So this is one of the few areas where Donnelly and I have aligned concerns but possibly for different reasons. I continue to believe that the changes to the original intention of NAPLAN testing has been disastrous for some Australian schools – but possibly not the ones dear to Donnelly’s heart. 

The reporting of NAPLAN results at the school level has, almost certainly, distorted what is taught in schools[5].  This is especially the case in schools where students struggle – our highly concentrated low SES schools.  It has also contributed to the residualisation of the public school system.  And we now have evidence that when the middle class students are leached out of public schools, public school students loose out in lots of ways.  For example they lose out because of the loss of articulate and ‘entitled’ parent advocates for the needs of the schools.  But they also lose out because each middle class child is actually a resource.  That is their existence in the class enhances the learning of all students in that class.[6]

Donnelly, on the other hand, appears to be more concerned that non-Government schools are now under the same reporting obligations as government schools.  I know of no other area of Commonwealth funding that was not expected to provide a defined level of accountability and reporting.   This anomaly was way overdue. 

5.        The Gillard-inspired national curriculum, instead of embracing rigorous, academic standards, is awash with progressive fads such as child-centred, inquiry-based learning, all taught through a politically correct prism involving indigenous, Asian and environmental perspectives.

Donnelly appears to have a short memory on this matter.  The national curriculum effort was kicked off by the previous Howard Government – and that is why History was singled out above other social science disciplines. 

Perhaps Donnelly has not read the national curriculum? If he had he would know that it is just a sequence and scoping exercise and does not address pedagogy at all.  Donnelly has had a bee in his bonnet for years about so called ‘progressive fads’ based on nothing more than sheer ignorance.  And as for the cross curriculum perspectives – these came out of extensive consultation and negotiation and were not imposed by the Gillard Government.  While there are unfortunately many examples of Commonwealth overreach, the cross-curricular perspectives are not examples.

6.        Even though the Commonwealth Government neither manages any schools nor employs any teachers, Gillard is making it a condition of funding that every school across Australia must implement Canberra’s (sic) National Plan for School Improvement.

This is another area where, to some extent, I do agree with Donnelly but for very different reasons. 

My position is that the National Plan for School Improvement is Commonwealth overreach that was unnecessary and risky because it could have put the Gonski implementation at risk.

The National Plan for School Improvement was unnecessary because, all education systems throughout the country already had some form of school improvement planning and annual reporting, and had begun to share good practice through the National Partnership process.  It was also unnecessary because it foolishly cut across the more informed and consultative process being undertaken by AITSL to grow the teacher performance feedback and improvement process in collaboration with the various teaching institutes around Australia.  This process had a strong emphasis on supporting teacher development and self-reflection based on well-supported peer, supervisor and student feedback.  The Commonwealth initiative has recast the whole process into a high stakes, external reporting context that will be much less useful and teacher friendly.  This is a pity.  AITSL’s work should not have been distorted in this manner.

It was, and is, risky as some states seized on the obligations of the Plan as the rationale to push back on the Gonski reforms.  Tying the two together  was poor strategy, in light of the importance of implementing Gonski between now and September 2013.

Donnelly’s objection to the Plan appears to be that is is imposed on the non Government sectors that should, according to Donnelly, be able to receive significant levels of Commonwealth funding with no accountability?.   It’s the imposts he objects to, not their design elements.

7.        Research here and overseas proves that the most effective way to strengthen schools, raise standards and assist teachers is to embrace diversity, autonomy and choice in education. The solution lies in less government interference and micro-management, not more.

I am afraid that Donnelly’s claims that autonomy and choice is the best way to strengthen schools does not have a shred of evidence.  I, and others, have written about the autonomy claims[7] and there is now solid international evidence confirming that market models of education choice are disastrous for education equity and therefore for education overall[8].

8.        Autonomy in education helps to explain why Catholic and independent schools, on the whole, outperform government schools.

There is now enduring evidence that the differences in school outcomes are overwhelmingly connected with student demography and not schooling system.  When SES is taken into account the non Government systems do not perform any better at all.  The very detailed research undertaken by Richard Teese[9] in the context of the Gonski Review process concluded that:

Using NAPLAN data, the paper shows that public schools work as well or better than private schools (including Catholic schools).  This finding echoes the results of PISA 2009 that, after adjustment for intakes, public schools are as successful as private schools

9.        Gillard’s plan for increased government regulation and control and a one size fits all, lowest common denominator approach is fabianism and based on the socialist ideal of equality of outcomes.

Now this is the strangest claim of all.  Here Donnelly uses fabianism as a slur and it is not the first time he has taken this tack.  However it is a term so quaint, so rarely used, that this tactic may well pass unnoticed.  In fact in order to find a useful definition I had to go back to 1932 to an essay by GDH Cole[10].  Cole’s explanation is interesting given the implied nastiness of fabianism:

Whereas Marxism looked to the creation of socialism by revolution based on the increasing misery of the working class and the breakdown of capitalism through its inability to solve the problem of distribution, Webb argued that the economic position of the workers had improved in the nineteenth century, was still improving and might be expected to continue to improve. He regarded the social reforms of the nineteenth century (e.g. factory acts, mines acts, housing acts, education acts) as the beginnings of socialism within the framework of capitalist society. He saw legislation about wages, hours and conditions of labor, and progressive taxation of capitalist incomes as means for the more equitable distribution of wealth; …

And

The Fabians are essentially rationalists, seeking to convince men by logical argument that socialism is desirable and offering their arguments to all men without regard to the classes to which they belong. They seem to believe that if only they can demonstrate that socialism will make for greater efficiency and a greater sum of human happiness the demonstration is bound to prevail. 

So our progressive tax system, our Fair Work Australia, our transfer payments to those in poverty, our national health system, our public education system, our welfare safety net, our superannuation minimums – these are all examples of fabianism at work, not because fabianism is a secret sect with mal intent as implied by Donnelly but because we have come to see the benefits of a strong cohesive society where the wealth of the country is not enjoyed by the few while the majority slave in misery. 

What’s so bad about our proud achievements Donnelly?  I for one want to keep moving in this direction and for me implementing the Gonski reform is the essential next step in schooling policy.

10.     Tony Abbott’s view of education, is based on diversity and choice where schools are empowered to manage their own affairs free from over regulation and constraint.

It is interesting that Donnelly thinks he knows what Tony Abbott’s view of education is, because I suspect most of us remain unclear on this matter.  Abbott has said on one occasion that more funding should go to Independent schools – an astonishing claim given our profile relative to all other countries.  His shadow Minister has said a bit more but his statement that we should go back to didactic teaching (like when he was a boy) does not imply a commitment to allowing schools to manage their own affairs to me.  But maybe he only means that this is what Government schools should do.  That would probably be OK according Kevin Donnelly’s view of the world.


[3] Ibid P 8

[4] Ibid P 26

[5] A useful, research article about this is the submission prepared by Dr Greg Thompson in response to the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Australian Education Bill 2012 – Submission no. 16 available at this URL http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/House_of_Representatives_Committees?url=ee/auseducation/subs.htm

[6]The best explanation for the important of ‘ other student affect’ on student learning is from an unpublished paper by Chris Bonner where he notes that “the way this resource of students is distributed between schools really matters. Regardless of their own Socio-economic background, students attending schools in which  the average socio economic background is high tent to perform better that if they are enrolled in a school with below Socio-economic intake

 

 

Is NAPLAN a high-stakes test? No, says Barry, but I say Yes

According to Professor Barry McGaw, Chair of ACARA, NAPLAN is not a high stakes test.[1]

He made this comment in response to a study[2] released by the Whitlam Institute claiming that NAPLAN testing is being treated as a high-stakes program and that this has led to unacceptable levels of stress for students and a narrowing and a distortion of what is taught in classrooms across Australia

McGaw’s attempt to ‘set the record straight’ about this relied on the following facts:

  • Testing students competence in basic skills in Australia  as been going on for many years – in NSW since 1989
  •  The tests are not onerous or intrusive – they occur 4 times in the life of a student spread over a few days and each lasting only a few hours
  • They just don’t compare to high stakes tests such as year 12 exams or the long eliminated years of primary exams – student futures do not rest on the outcomes
  •  While there have been irresponsible attempts to create league tables there a have been strong steps taken to counter this.  MySchool only compares schools with schools with similar demographic intakes.

I don’t disagree with any of these points and I could add that as currently organised  NAPLAN results do not appear to directly impact the teachers’ performance review process or the future of any particular school.  In this sense we are different from most US states where Race To The Top has forced education reform in this direction

Now I use the word appear because there have been hints that this may not be the case now and may not always be the case in the future.

In relation to school closures, the closing of the Steiner stream at the Footscray school in Victoria was in part justified in terms of concerns about NAPLAN results. Similarly, in Queensland the decision to defund the school for travelling children was also justified on this basis.  This does not yet equate to a strong relationship between NAPLAN results and school closure decisions.

When it comes to teacher performance reviews the details are still a little unclear.

The DEEWR fact sheet[3] on this matter states that “Under the new performance and development framework all teachers will participate in an annual appraisal process ….The framework will set out the aspects of a teacher’s performance that will be assessed and will include such aspects as lesson observations, student results, parental feedback, and contribution to the school community. “ (my emphasis)

AITSL, the organisation tasked with developing the framework has released a performance and development Framework document which was endorsed by Ministers of Education in August 2012. [4] In this document it states under “A focus on student outcomes” that this is not about simplistic approaches “that tie evaluation of teaching directly to single outcome measures” and that this Framework “defines student outcomes broadly to include student learning, engagement in learning and wellbeing, and acknowledges that these can be measured in a variety of ways”.

So it appears that the worst element of Value Added Measures approach are not going to be an explicit part of the Teacher Performance and Review Process. at least not yet.  Of course, if there is a change of Government, My Pyne has already flagged that this is the path he will take us down[5].

So what does all this mean?  The arguments presented here to date appear to suggest that indeed NAPLAN is not a high stakes test and that perhaps McGaw is correct when he argues that, if teaching has been effected and students made to feel stress it is entirely on the head of teachers ,who are test cramming for no apparent reason.[6]

However there is another factor that McGaw has not considered.  Even if the publication of NAPLAN results does not become tied to teacher evaluations; does not result in school closures: and is not ever again presented in league table format on the front page of the Sydney Morning Herald, it is a high stakes test because of our unique and regressive school funding and hyper school choice policies and practices, that pit schools against one another for ‘favourable enrolments’

Indeed this was an explicit intent behind the decision to go down the school transparency reform route.  When former PM Kevin Rudd announced his new transparency agenda in August 2008 at the National Press Club, it is reported that he said to journalists after his speech that, if after seeing their schools performance data “… some [parents] walk with their feet that’s exactly what the system is designed to do.[7]

Now if our school set up was like that of Finland where the vast majority of students go to their local school and there is a high level of buy in and confidence in schools, this new transparency might not have had a big impact.  But our school set up is very different.  And it is different in a way that makes our schools very different from each other.

Not only is school resourcing not delivering equal quality of educational servicing, but schools serve very different communities and these combined factors contribute to wide disparities in school outcomes.

For parents of students attending the most concentrated of high need schools – the most socially and economically marginalised school parent bodies, the logic of parent power and school choice, as a response to NAPLAN comparative information, does not apply.  The 75 schools with ICSEA values below 800[8] (mostly small remote schools for Indigenous students) are not likely to experience much in the way of  ‘white middle class flight’ There are almost none to fly and no school alternative, apart from distance education. These parents don’t have a choice and are unlikely to lead the charge about unacceptable student performance.  This is not an effective lever for school improvement for these schools.

But schools with ICSEA scores between 800 and 1000 serve low to middle low SES communities where the parent demography can be more diverse.  I predict that these schools must worry about losing those parents and students with the highest economic and social capital.  These schools need active articulate, high expectation parents but may well lose them as they choose moving rather than improving.  They also lose these students. This serves to further concentrate the social mix of the student body with quite well known and predictable effects on student performance outcomes.

This is why Australia is a global leader in the extent to which our test results show the influence of what is known as student effect.

The effect of the decision to publish individual school test results has been to imply to parents that the responsibility for ensuring high school quality for all children – actually the responsibility of Government  – has in a sense been transferred to individual parents.  It is now their responsibility to choose the best option in terms of their child’s individual benefit.  To fail to do so is to be a somewhat neglectful parent.

What particularly saddens me about this is that the role of parents in schools has been an important civil society tradition. The local school in a local community used to be seen as ‘our school’, educating ‘our kids’.  This was rich local social capital.  It was a tradition based on enlightened self interest – of seeing the benefits in working, not just for the educational benefits for our own children,  but in working to ensure that education  works to build the kind of world they desire all children to inherit.

The publication of NAPLAN results has taken us further into the market model of schooling.  The school autonomy agenda will intensify this.  And this is the reason why NAPLAN is experienced as a high stakes test with all of the negative consequences.


[6] “If NAPLAN is being made high-stakes for students, with some reported to be anxious and even ill when the tests approach, this is due to teachers transferring stress to their students.”  The Conversation 11057

[8] Barry McGaw, “The Expectations Have it” in Phillip Hughes (Ed) Achieving Quality Education for All, Perspectives from the Asia-Pacific Region and Beyond, Springer 2013 p. 107

NT the next jurisdiction to be bought off on school autonomy rhetoric

According to this article $480 million plan for more school autonomy NT has now accepted $2.4 mill to ‘ implement school autonomy measures  in 20 Territory schools.

But, just like in NSW, it appears that the money to schools is what they are really after not school autonomy. This article quotes the Principal of Ludmilla Primary who will use the funds for a family liaison project.

Now I ask you – what is stopping Ludmilla from implementing thsi program now?  Is it lack of autonomy – No  it is lack of funds.

The more this program rolls out the more it is starting to look like a giant school bribery program.

The only question is – what is the Commonwealth getting from this expenditure?  Suggestions anyone?

School Autonomy – IT REALLY IS ALL ABOUT THE MONEY

Ha! So the hero of school autonomy in NSW, Mark McConville, Principal of Toronto High School has recanted   Principal backtracks over power shift plans – Metro & Regional – National – Education – Stock & Land..

Many of us watched the ABC Four Corners program, hosted by Kerry O’Brien, Revolution in the Classroom, where school autonomy was touted as the latest magic bullet.  McConville was used as the poster boy for this solution. 

What I most remember from watching this program was McConville’s boast that, thanks to the NSW School autonomy trial, he was able to ‘clean out’ his top leadership team and bring in a totally new team. No-one asked about the old team:

      why did he need to move them?

      had he tried to create a leadership team out of them?

      where did they end up?

      how did this event impact on their morale or the morale of the schools they ended up at.

Now he has changed his tune.  He has realized that this is a process of massive cost shifting, as the work now done by the Department of recruiting and appointing teachers is devolved to schools, along with the responsibility to manage budgets – possibly shrinking budgets

Back then he said that devolution gave him a chance to drive big reforms at his school –  reforms that are kicking goals.  Now he is saying that “the benefits for the school from the trials had been largely financial’.

Now he is saying

We don’t want to be saddled with the staffing budget, with the potential for cost-shifting and cost-cutting [from the department to schools]. And we don’t want to go from making educational decisions to making financial decisions.

All perfectly reasonable which is of course why there is industrial action. 

He also supports claims that have been made by many who have reviewed school autonomy in Victoria and elsewhere.  He admits that he would be hard-pressed to cite anything a school could do under the local authority reforms that it wasn’t already able to do, to a certain extent, already and that the only area where savings can be made is in staffing.

If any NSW principals were sitting on the fence on this matter, this view from the voice of experience should make them sit up and take notice.