Calling all Feminist Educators:

Since retiring and becoming a twitter tragic over the last 2 years in my retirement what has struck me most is the extensive amount of debate and focus on feminist issues: gender justice; gender injustice; the importance of and the irrelevance of feminism in social media.

But there is one place where feminism debate and discussion seems to be alarmingly thin on the ground, especially in Australia – school education! From the perspective of an outsiders like myself it appears to be a feminist free zone.

Current debates on social medial  cover ranges the following: Continue reading

What might Hannah Arendt say about the budget?

I am sure many teachers have been to see the film about Hannah Arendt.  I hope you found it inspiring and insightful.

I am also sure many of you will be feeling as  do – furious, helpless, defeated, tired and depressed by the budget revelations that Gonski funding principals cut no ice with this Government.  It doesn’t matter that we suspected that this was the case all along.  With the odds so stacked against public schooling in this country, we do tend to cling to false hope when there is little else.

So I am sharing a quote from Hannah Arendt sent to me by Lyndsay Connors  which sets out just why we continue to fight for quality education for all

Education is the point at which we decide whether we love our children enough … not to strike from their hands the chance of undertaking something new”. It is only through gifting our children this freedom that we will prepare them adequately for “the task of renewing a common world”.

On a brighter note – I am very curious to know what David Gonski will share with the punters tomorrow when he delivers the Jean Blackburn Memorial Oration for the Australian College of Educators at The University of Melbourne.

Will he reveal what he really thought about the impossible constraints put upon the review team to deliver a fair proposal where no school would lose a cent?

Will he share with us his personal reaction to experiencing top elite schools and struggling low SES schools?

Will he document the extent to which the original modelling in the report was watered down in an attempt to appease the Catholic Sector

Will he critique the decisions of Julia Gillard who, even though she wanted this to be her defining achievement, delayed implementation to try and use it as a vote catcher

And what on earth is he likely to say about Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott?

Please Mr Gonski – deliver a frank and fearless exposure

Stay tuned.

 

 

If you think that queer/GLTBI politics and issues have nothing to do with teachers, schools and children – think again

In the most recent editorial of a progressive educational Journal called Rethinking Schools the authors relate the story of Sasha Fleischman.

On Nov. 5, Illinois became the 16th state to legalize same-sex marriage. And Sasha Fleischman’s skirt was set on fire on an Oakland, California, bus by a 16-year-old student from another school (Sasha is an a gender youth*). What a contradiction. And what a clear example of the complex state of LGBTQ issues at this moment in history. What does this contradiction mean for students, teachers, and schools?

The schools response to this tragedy was very important. Students and teachers immediately mobilised support for Sasha; money to cover medical expenses; an organized “Stroll for Sasha” along the bus route; and new t shirts for the basketball team marked with ‘No h8’ on the front and Sasha’s name on the back.

The authors make the point that “homophobia, misogyny, and other forms of hatred are alive and well, and even progressive schools and classrooms have a long way to go in creating nurturing spaces for students, parents, and staff who don’t conform to gender and/or sexuality “norms.””

They point out that it doesn’t matter how strong our ‘generic anti bullying programs and policies are, because the anti-bullying framework positions bullying as an individualised behaviour problem and does not address the systemic issues.

To lump disparate behaviors under the generic “bullying” is to efface real differences that affect young people’s lives. Bullying is a broad term that de-genders, de-races, de-everythings school safety.

The reasons for teachers’ reluctance to name issues related to diverse sexualities, homophobi, transgender are readily understandable. Parent, community backlash, moving into unknown territory with students are not imaginary barriers.

So how do we move forward?

For those who wish to think and act more deliberately to address these issues this article is an excellent place to start. And although the examples provided in this article of current event stories worth using are all US based, I am sure it is possible to find Australian and other examples.

* The term refers to having no gender: meaning an individual does not identify as either male or female

More Autonomy for NT on schools funding will be the death knell for ‘closing the gap’

I know this is a waste of my breath, but I am begging Christopher Pyne and Tony Abbott to visit remote schools in the NT and schools in Darwin with a checklist in hand.  The checklist should include:

  • state of the buildings,
  • state of the grounds,
  • state of the playground,
  • sports facilities
  • water bubblers, pathways, covered ways. shaded areas and ablution areas
  • eating areas
  • existence of specialist areas such as science laboratories, ICT rooms, libraries, teacher staff rooms,
  • experience of principal
  • average teaching experience of staff
  • no of specialist support staff
  • turnover and average experience of teachers
  • average number of children on the roll for each class

Then compare the relative needs of the schools in question – numbers of children who do not yet speak or understand English, NAPLAN scores, student attendance figures special needs and so on.

Then and only then try and tell us that the best way to spend Gonski funding is to give a blank cheque to the NT Government.

The simple fact that every teacher in a Darwin school knows is that the Darwin schools are much more generously funded than the highly disadvantaged remote schools.  They also know that the NT Government, no matter what its political persuasion, will never be able to change this because they would immediately lose office.

To cover for this the Department of education has been pretending to work on a new needs based staffing formula and has been pretending this  since at least 2008.  It is a farce. I have written about this previously here.

And The Chief Minister has admitted that the reason they did not sign on to the ALP Gonski offer is because it would have forced them to shift funds out of Darwin and into remote because the Gonski framework required implementing the needs based approach.

Now it looks like Minister Pyne will give NT the funds with no restrictions.  And at the same time NT are cutting positions right across remote NT.  Indigenous peoples are being ripped off in the name of Gonski and this just makes me want to weep.

For white teachers teaching white kids: in the shadow of the Zimmerman case

When my oldest child was about 3 we had an African family over for lunch who had a child about the same age.  Now we were a white family and this was a family with black skin.  I naively assumed this was an irrelevance.

Imagine my embarrassment when my usually friendly child flatly refused to let our visiting child into the sandpit.  I thought I would die of shame and embarrassment.  Somehow I had managed to bring up a racist in my midst.

Oh how naïve I was about race, about difference.  It was, of course, a naivety no non-white parent would ever have had.

I read a really useful blog recently by Jennifer Harvey which brought all this back to me.

Dear Parents of White Children, it began:

“I vote that we strike the following from our parental lexicon:

1. “Everybody is equal.”

2. “We’re all the same underneath our skin.”

I realize this is counterintuitive. But I’m completely serious.

These statements, she argues, are “stand-ins for the actual conversations about race, racial difference and racism we need to be having with our kids” – and of course with our students

Harvey, a professor of religion, gets her students to write racial autobiography papers. They are asked to describe the impact of racial identity in their life, including any significant experiences, teachings and thoughts pertaining to that identity at various life stages. They also have to interview 2 family members about their experiences.

Now anyone who has tried anything like this (and I do encourage you to give it an age appropriate go)  will know what comes next – white kids find this almost impossible

Time and again, my white students write that “everybody’s equal” is the “most important” thing their parents taught them about race. Time and again, a not-insignificant number of them then proceed to describe their present trepidation about a.) telling their parents they date interracially; b.) bringing home a Latino/a or black classmate; c.) Thanksgiving break, when everyone will silently tolerate the family member who makes racist comments; or d.) something else that reveals how deeply and clearly these students know this “most important teaching” doesn’t mean a hell of a lot to their actual white experience.

She goes on to say that

I know “everybody’s equal” means “we all deserve to be treated with fairness.” And when we tell kids we’re all the same underneath skin, gender, sexuality, physical abilities and other differences we’re trying to tell them we share human dignity and worth.

Obviously, I believe these things.

But, have you ever actually met a “generic” human? Someone without a race or a gender?

Well, guess what? Neither has your child.

And by the age of 3, our kids are aware of this fact, even though they don’t yet use adult categories to talk about it.

As teachers and parents, rising to the challenge to do better is not going to be easy – its not an easy matter.

If white children grow up in a world where simplistic platitudes pass for conversations about this deeply important and complex matter, is it any wonder white students are so racially baffled and behind and so ill equipped to join their non-white peers as allies in building more racially just futures.

As teachers and parents, rising to the challenge to do better is not going to be easy – its not an easy matter.

But as Harvey notes:

If we want our white children to live in a world with more racial justice than the one we live in now, we need to figure out how to have conversations with them as real, thick, painful, resilient, strategic and authentic as the conversations … parents [in non white families] had to have. So that our kids can help build that world.

 

Note: I realize that if you are reading this and you have not been deprived of tough conversations about race from an early age, chances are you did not grow up in an all white family.  This will all sound far too obvious to you – insultingly so.  But you need to give the rest of us a chance to catch up.

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. ..”

EYES WIDE OPEN: What to make of Gonski Lite?

 

I have now read over 150 articles on the Commonwealth’s new funding model – most of them little more than repeats of press releases or snide remarks about its destined failure.

There are a few that stand–out, but unfortunately only a tiny minority have bothered to go beyond the media briefings, to analyse the figures and investigate the issues to any extent.  This is particularly shocking given how important this proposed new policy is for all Australians.

So what to make of what is on the table? Here is my take on the good, the bad and my on balance assessment.  But firstly I would like to be clear that I approach this issue from a social justice value base.  And, unlike many, I acknowledge that this does not make me an impartial observer – just a well informed, committed and passionate one.

I will deal with the bad first

The funding falls far short of the Gonski Recommendations

The oft-quoted Gonski figure of $5 billion per year in 2009 terms has gone forever.  Others have assessed that over 6 years this would have increased to about $39 billion in real terms. What is on the table is less $14.5 Billion over six years, or less than 50 per cent of what was assessed as necessary to achieve a quality needs based education funding regime.

The $14.5 billion includes $2.34 billion ($390 million per annum) that is already out in schools through the National Partnership Programs.  Yes this program was lapsing in 2014, but as far as schools are concerned, it is out there funding extra teaching resources.  It just means they won’t experience the taking-away of these much-needed resources.

The targeting approach recommended by Gonski has been diluted in significant ways to the detriment of our most needy schools

Gonski’s key message was that if Australia is ever to lift its educational outcomes it has to do it through targeting those most disadvantaged.

The current funding offer provides the vast bulk (83 per cent) of the funds in the form of base funds based on the Student Resource Standard.  The remaining 15 per cent of the funds are for needs based loadings.

The loadings or targeting measures are a key element of the Gonski reforms because as Colebatch notes “our funding system gives too little to the students who need it most, and the growth in funding should be used to redirect money to the most disadvantaged 25 per cent”

However while there are still targeted measures or loadings in the Government plan they are not well targeted and this difference is crucial.

Where Gonski proposed targeting the bottom 25 per cent of Socio-economic status the Government’s offer targets the bottom 50 per cent.  This makes a very big difference for schools at the low end of the ICSEA scale, because the money is spread as thin as vegemite over the vast majority of schools.  I had a brief search on MySchool and, although that is hard to do, it confirmed my sense that almost all schools can find a student or 2 in the bottom 50 per cent.

Where Gonski advocated for needs based loading for Indigenous students it would only apply the loading when the proportion of Indigenous students reached 5 per cent.  This would have included over 95 per cent of NT schools but only a minority of other schools.  There is no doubt that the decision to apply this loading for every Indigenous student has cost the NT dearly.

It is clear that the non-Government sector influenced this part of the deal making, as this dilution represents a clear win for them at the expense of the needs of the most disadvantaged schools.  The greatest need by far is in the public system and few schools serving the poorest communities in Australia are non-government.  Richard Teese notes that

About 80 per cent of all disadvantaged children attend government schools. Yet despite this, state and federal governments are set to give all non-government schools real increases in funds over the next three, and possibly six years. This includes the 1000 schools currently overfunded – schools that are “funding maintained”.

This more than anything cements our divided and highly unequal system into the future – a savage irony as also noted by Teese

We risk emerging from the most thorough review of national school funding with an architecture of advantage and disadvantage that is even stronger than when we began.

This is also a fantastic political win for the Independent education sector because it opens the door to a voucher type approach where wily non-Government schools can cherry pick the highest performing students who meet any of the loadings criteria but who do not require the extra ‘heavy lifting’ required by state schools who must take all comers.

By putting a price on the child’s head we are assuming that all children all Indigenous children are alike and all children in the bottom 50% are alike.  The NAPLAN results for NT Indigenous compared to the NAPLAN results for non-NT Indigenous are very very different – suggesting this is not the case.  The schools and associated families of the children with the highest needs have indeed been sold out.  And of course the NT has been sold out too.

On the other hand, Bill Daniel’s (Executive Director of the Independent Schools Council of Australia) implicit endorsement of the proposal suggests that they are indeed highly satisfied[1].

It brings with it all the inherent risks associated with federal overreach

Bernard Keane[2] makes the point that the real benefit of these funding reforms may not lie in the additional funding.  The funding he claims is just a means to an end –  “… the real benefits may well lie not in the extra dollars but in the changes to performance information and allocation of decision-making within large systems.” He goes on the say that “ In effect, for that extra $9.4 billion, Gillard wants the state to sign up to more rigorous entry and assessment standards for teachers, more power for school principals and greater performance information for parents”.

Keane might view these as benefits but I take a different view.  All states already have in place comprehensive and well-researched school improvement processes and were already sharing ideas based on what they had learnt from their programs.

And there is no strong evidence that giving more staffing hire and fire power and budget autonomy to principals enhances education equity but there is strong evidence that competition between schools over their ‘market share’ of ‘desirable student enrolments’ increases inter school differences and further disadvantages schools that have the hardest job.

 It does not address the schools that are currently overfunded under the current SES model

This is disappointing especially as I can recall there were articles that made it clear that even the coalition MPs acknowledged that the grandfathering of the overpayments needed to have a use by date.

It does not play fair between the states

This has been the focus of the WA Premier and he does have a point.  The logic outlined by Garrett is that they have drawn a Student Resource Standard line and applied a simple state blind gap filling model to the funding allocations.  That is, their allocations are based on what it costs to bring all schools up to this standard.

WA currently funds schools at a higher pre student rate than either Victoria and NSW so their funding gap is less.  This sounds fine from a distance, but it is worth remembering that Victoria, NSW and Qld have all taken funding away from schools and now appear to get a windfall gain from this cynical action.

It is also worth comparing this funding carve-up to other similar state negotiations over education funding.  For example, when the Early Childhood Education National Partnership funding shares between states were being negotiated Qld and NT has a much lower proportion of 4 year olds in preschools and argued that they aught to receive a larger share.  This ‘state blind gap resourcing’ approach was not followed on that occasion although there were some minor adjustments in recognition of this gap.

I think the key thing to take from this is that all states do not have equal bargaining power just like the unequal lobbying power between the education sectors.

It does not address the fact that Australia has one of the most class segregated and unequal schooling models in the world

I nearly didn’t include this negative because, even if ‘Gonski original’ had been proposed, this problem would have remained.  This was because the terms of reference for Gonski placed this out of bounds

It has been our obstinate commitment to the god of parent choice that has led to this outcome

So after all this – what are the positives?

The proposal offers new money to the public education system

The Government school share of the funding is $12.1 Billion.  Some $2 billion is already out in schools (under National Partnership Programs) but around $10 Billion is clearly additional to current expenditure.

This is important and we shouldn’t waste this opportunity because it is not on ideal terms.  It was never ever going to be. Moreover, opposition education spokesman Christopher Pyne says an Abbott government would keep the old system, implying that it will offer nothing new for public schools.

If we don’t embrace this offer during this Government’s term we may end up with something far far worse.  Tony Abbott has already gone on record saying that equity should mean all schools get the same level of Government funding.  This would be an absolute outrage.

It tosses out, once and for all, the AGSRC – and this is critical

The AGSRC or Average Government Student Resource Cost was the basis of the old funding model.  It was just that – it was a costing figure derived from calculating the average cost of educating a child at a Government school.  This has been a sore point for decades because the average cost for Government school students is based on a student population that is very different from the non-Government school population and is getting more and more different over time.  The effect of using AGSRC to determine funding formula meant that non-Government schools were financially rewarded when public school residualisation caused the costs of educating the increasingly poorer and needy students at Government schools to rise.

This new offer ushers in a Student Resource Standard based on calculations that are much more defensible.

The need for a better deal for public schools is urgent – It cannot wait

As David Zyngier notes[3] currently only 71 per cent of Australian government spending goes to public schools. Only Belgium and Chile spent a lower proportion of government funding in the public sector.

The debate we have around school funding and school choice in Australia is absolutely unique.  We take as normal and natural that Governments fork out a large amount of dollars to pay for the education of parents who chose not to use the Government provided systems.  In the vast bulk of countries this choice would not be subsidized.

We are paying the price for this choice in our international test results.  I must say I don’t particularly care about that, but I do care that we are paying the price in terms of large numbers of children who fail to reach their potential because our schooling arrangements have disadvantaged them.  We need to acknowledge this and put this right.  This is a start.


[1] “The success of this funding model depends heavily on the response from state and territory governments,” responded Independent Schools Council of Australia executive Bill Daniels.

http://www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1756442/How-leaders-reacted-to-school-funding-plan