We have had wife swap: now it is time for teacher swap

I have had a fantasy for some time now about a new TV program, come research project, called teacher swap.  In this fantasy a team of teachers/leaders from a high end school – preferably the best – the A team, swap places with a team from a remote Indigenous school for a term.

Before they commence all team members of both teams write down their expectations, their beliefs about remote /high end schooling and their ambitions for the period.  Both get interviewed throughout the process as part of the filming.

At the end of the term, the two groups are brought together with a team of wise critical friends to help them debrief and offer advice to each other and to Government.

The final event would be a small publication in the style of Richard Elmore’s book which is called “I used t think …And now I think…..” http://www.gse.harvard.edu/news-impact/2011/09/books-i-used-to-think-and-now-i-think/

Why do I want this?  Well I only visited a small number of schools in remote NT.  But my overwhelming feeling was one of outrage.

  • Outrage at the poverty of the school infrastructure  – huge mud puddles in the middle of the pathways between buildings, no water fountains, libraries that would have looked bad 20 years ago, broken playground equipment, no ramps for children in wheelchairs, very few dedicated spaces like home economics, or science facilities …..
  • Outrage at the lack of specialist teachers that were available in abundance in Darwin schools – properly trained ESL and literacy specialists, careers advisors, home liaison officers, counsellors, early childhood trained teachers, remedial teachers …..
  • Outrage at the lack of access to proper child assessments to determine students special need adjustments
  • Outrage that classroom displays did not show rich and varied classroom activities and investigations but phonemes, spelling lists and sound charts.
  • Outrage that the NT policy of funding schools MODIFIED by attendance selectively robbed these schools of quite a few essential teaching resources – resources that could have supported strategies to increase student attendance.
  • Outrage that one of the few high profile interventions is in the area of male sports and that almost no schools receive funding to target girls in a similar way.

I could go on ….

Now this was over 3 years ago and it is quite possible that some things have improved.  The BER will almost certainly have had an impact.  But some things have not changed – the school staffing policy being but one.

But on top of these concerns I also picked up a sense that the staff at the school were not outraged.  The situation seemed normal – just the way things are.

onTeachers who teach at our top schools could provide a much needed perspective on the things that these schools lack.  They could also underscore how challenging it is to teach in such a chaotic environment.

Now if I had a bit of the Gates billions for equity in schooling in Australia this is one investment that I would prioritise.  What do you think?

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Why Women Are Silent About Sexual Harassment

This article Why Women Are Silent | Justine Larbalestier reminds us all, that sexual harassment and rape are  legitimised by a culture that accept this as normal and that tells women that they are over-reacting when they try and object or speak out.

In the 1990s I worked for a Australian Commonwealth Department  that shall be nameless.  But is probably recognised by many as soon as I say that the Secretary of the Department was a well known and constant sexual harassment menace.  While nothing was ever done to address the problem, there were many things done to manage it.

For example, at every event attended by the Secretary a minder was appointed to follow him and to stop him finding a reason for going out of the social space alone with any women or sharing a car home and so on.  They told me they had to be quite vigilant.  This was an official part of someone’s job and no-one seemed to think this unacceptable.

But the appalling-ness of this normalising culture really came home to me on one particular day when I had to report on an important project, that was running into problems, to a  meeting of all the senior executives.  At one point I said ‘ What will be the consequences of this project not delivering on time?”

The answer from a senior male bureaucrat: ” You get to spend an hour alone with the Secretary”.  This was in front of over 40 senior public servants many of them female.   I don’t remember that anyone objected, but the laughter rang in my ears for a long time. I can still recall my sense of  angry humiliation.

I do understand why women are silent but to this day I wish I had named this talk for what is was.

Mr PYNE: Please answer the bloody questions!

What a great job Jane Caro is doing trying to examine and counter the guts of Christopher Pyne’s arguments . This article: Pyne Picks The Easy Target On Schools | newmatilda.com does a great job of  setting out Pynes rationale clearly  so it can be held up to examination.

If Jane is right (and, unlike me, she has had the dubious pleasure of direct engagement with Pyne) he believes that:  (if I might paraphrase)

There is no education equity problem in Australia and the differentiated learning outcomes (up to 3 years between students from high SES and students from very low SES schools) doesn’t mean there is inequity at all.  What it means is that

  • the teachers in these schools are bad teachers and should have been dismissed
  • Principals don’t have enough autonomy
  • teachers do not have enough independence
  • parental involvement in these schools needs to be improved as do governing councils for schools.

Now having laid this out – using Pyne’s own individualistic lens on schools Caro addresses each and every point.

I am motivated to write this article not because I don’t support Caro’s excellent analysis but because, in addition to her points there are some other powerful arguments that could – no should – be part of this hard-to-have debate.  So here I am summarising some of  Caro’s arguments and, in the best tradition of  building on the ideas of others, adding a few that I also think need an airing

Caro paraphrased:  The idea that all the worst teachers have somehow ended up concentrated in all the disadvantaged schools is just too quirky to be believable.

On the other hand , what if Pyne was correct?  Wouldn’t this prove that we had gross education inequity because all the bad teachers had been sent to all the poor schools?  How outrageous.  How dare he say this and not admit there is an equity issue!

In fact, I have been pushing for greater transparency around the distribution of neophyte and high quality teachers for years because it is true that  poor schools are hard-to-staff schools.  This doesnt mean the teachers in these schools are bad teachers – not at all.  But it may mean that the staff team is made up of a high proportion of brand new teachers who are still learning to some extent  and should be given lots of support and development.  I know of schools in the NT where over 80% of teachers were new to teaching – the best principal in the world would struggle to support all these new teachers to the level that is needed.  Hard-to-staff poor schools are also more likely to have high teacher turnover and, as Caro notes, principals who are new to level.

So if I were having this debate with Pyne I would be more inclined to say:

Low SES school outcomes may well be impacted by the fact that they have a higher ratio of inexperienced teachers,  neophyte principals and higher that usual turnover and this must be addressed through greater support.  This is an equity issue – it is about equal opportunity to learn.  School autonomy is highly likely to make this worse not better.  Systems should be held accountable  for ensuring that all school have access to a rich mix of teachers and a stable staff team – a mix that includes a fair share of those that are more experienced and capable.  Now we have professional standards for teachers with advanced teacher status – it would be possible to monitor this

Caro’s Response: Parents who are themselves products of unequal schooling, who are struggling and time poor and who are lacking in school valued social capital can never contribute to schools in the same way that parents at the other end of the spectrum can – education is meant to compensate for home background, give access to socially powerful knowledge beyond the access of all families not be limited by it.

Now to be fair Caro says this much better than I have here without the insidious overtones of unintended classism.  I strongly agree with Caro on this matter, but I would also be bursting to say to Pyne:

“But the decade plus long years of overfunding for non government schools and the unfettered promotion of parent choice has created the situation where, in many school communities, most of the families with the school valued social capital, the time, and the  confidence to participate  effectively in school decision making have taken their children out.

You have endorsed policies that have created this segregated unequal playng field and now you are telling parents it is up to them.  Universal compulsory secular schooling was set up by Australian federation visionaries to oversome this difference not to reinforce it.

By admitting that parents in these schools don’t do for the school and their children what parents in rich schools do you are admitting that your pro-choice policies have created inequality in the ability of the parent community to add value”.

So I have this little  discussion in my head , chuffed that I have shown Pyne how even his own arguments demonstrate school inequality.  But then I stop.

Who am I kidding?  You see trying to have a rational argument with Pyne is like trying to nail jelly to the wall!

Those who watched Pyne on Q and A , might have noted that every time someone tried to get him to acknowledge something that was obvious he used sleight of hand techniques to avoid responding.  When asked about Gonski he said – its not about money but his whole position is about money – not for low SES schools but about maintaining monetary privilege for the high SES schools.

He doesn’t engage in logical debate and I don’t know how one can have a meaningful discussion when someone refuses to address the arguments put to him.

But I really really would like to know what Pyne might say – if able to stick to topic- to this argument:

“Mr Pyne, you say that the cost of implementing Gonski is not $5 billion, and not $6.5 billion, but $113 billion.  This must mean that in order to apply the resource standard and the equity resource weightings we need an additional $113 billion.  This must mean that the funding inequities are much much worse than even Gonski protagonists realise.

In fact according to your figures things are SO UNEQUAL that we will never never ever be able to afford to use Government funds to provide Government schools with the funds that match – in funding weighted for equity – the level of government  funding available to non Government schools.  So how is this not a grave and urgent equity problem?

Indigenous education report misses the big picture

It was wonderful to see a high quality well informed response to Helen and Mark Hughes latest missive about education failure in the NT.

 The Article Indigenous education report misses the big picture by Bill Fogarty from ANU National Centre for Indigenous Studies is a worthy contribution to the debate on this important wicked issue.

 It is important that the highly publicized work of Hughes and Hughes be countered.   Now I know that they are very committed to Indigneous education outcomes and I don’t for a minute want to imply anything less in terms of their motivation but having read their reports over the years  I have been struck by the fact that they consistently get it half right. 

 The poor outcomes and the poor education infrastructure and services tends to be the bit that they get right but the report wonders into simplistic demagoguery when they get to saying who is to blame.  And over the years this has varied.  Once upon a time it was post modernism and bilingual education but they can hardly argue this now.  Then it was land rights but even that has been changed in very significant ways.  Now it is teacher quality, school failure and pretend jobs.

 Fogarty reminds us that there is a whole field of international research  on the social determinants of education failure  and that we should look to this to guide the questions we bring to this problem 

He reminds us that:

“the daily routine of school in remote communities takes place against depressingly high rates of unemployment, early mortality, poor health, violence, crime, substance abuse and youth self harm and suicide.

Any consideration of education in remote regions of places like the Northern Territory must recognise the relationship between levels of attainment and poverty, health, housing, access to government services, infrastructure and socio-economic status.

These factors are not excuses for poor outcomes. They combine to constitute the reality within which teachers, students and parents battle every day to raise literacy and numeracy standards.”

But he also suggests that we can do better and shines a light on some clear areas of policy failure.  His pick of examples include

  • the very high untreated and unidentified hearing loss issues among remote Indigenous children
  • the under-spend – current and historical – in remote Indigenous schools
  • the impact of inappropriate NAPLN testing in Remote Indigenous schools
  • the failure of NT to apply the funds it receives from the Commonwealth Grants Commission for overcoming disadvantage for this purpose

 I agree with this list.  I would add

  • the serious long term underinvestment in housing which has resulted in average people per 3 bedroom housing rations of over 15 in many communities – how do kids do homework in such a setting?  The current investments only start to make inroads on the years of neglect.  even after new houses are built there will continue to be chronic over-crowding
  • the lack of enough well trained ESL teachers in remote schools – something that is being addressed
  • the lack of preparedness of teachers for the reality of remote schooling – and the subsequent high turnover rates which have a devastating impact on students (this is also being addressed) 
  • the lack of well designed adult literacy programs; and
  • the betrayal of the trust of communities across  the NT when after negotiating Remote school-Community  Partnership Agreements with many communities the government turned away from bilingual education – the centerpiece of many of these agreements.

One of the reasons for the historical and current under-spend in schooling is that the NT continues to fund schools on the basis of enrollment figures modified by attendance.   This is in my view a form of indirect discrimination because only remote Indigenous communities have attendance rates low enough to drastically reduce the number of teachers allocated. 

But a 65% attendance rate does not mean that only 65% of enrolled students attend.  All students attend but very few come every day of the week  (around 20-30%).  The rest attend intermittently.  So funding by attendance means that a teacher would end up with quite a large group of students on their class roll even if on average there were only 20 or so per day.  But they still have to plan for and teach all the students in the group.  Teaching students that attend irregularly is hard enough but teaching more than you would have to in a Darwin school is just plain unacceptable.

The implementation of NAPLAN tests for year 3 students in remote Indigenous communities is a tragic farce.  In most of these communities the only time students hear standard Australian English spoken is in the formal classroom.  By year 3 they are no most capable of being tested in English language written literacy that all the newly arrived non-English background migrants that are exempted in other states.  It is about tike there was a united push to abolish this useless practice and concentrate instead on developing and assessing children’s growing English language oracy.

Fogarty argues that the solutions to this challenge will necessarily be long term but that they should include redressing the historic under-investment and “finally, demand real commitment from all levels of government for all Indigenous students”.

I agree that this must be part of the solution but I am afraid I see no evidence of any focus on this matter.  In fact the historic changes to commonwealth state funding arrangements conducted under the auspices of COAG committed parties to ignoring financial input based reporting in order to focus on the main game of outcomes.  But I am afraid that in the case of the NT this was a seriously flawed backward step.

 Any medium to senior level public servant in the NT will tell you off the record that ‘there are no votes in Indigenous issues’ in the NT.  Until this is acknowledged and addressed I am afraid we will still be having these pointless blame game arguments in 20 years or even more.  And that is shameful.

Source: Indigenous education report misses the big picture.

Please Barry and Tony – listen to Jim (NAPLAN and MYSCHOOL)

Jim Angermeyr is the latest to add his voice to the growing number of experts who are troubled by how test scores are being used. He says that policy makes should have a healthy respect for error and use caution when interpreting results

“That caution grows as the groups get smaller, like looking at a classroom instead of a whole school. And that caution grows even more when the stakes increase because increasing the stakes can lead to all kinds of distortions…

 Where the distortion comes in is that you can only test a limited amount of the domain. Even if it’s a domain like mathematics, you can’t cover everything. And so you make assumptions about kids’ skills in that broader domain….

 Testing professionals know that you’re just sampling the domain and you don’t try to make inferences further than that. But nonprofessionals do that all the time.”

 If Angermeyr was running the world he says he would:

  •  severely reduce the accountability stakes for tests. …
  •  do away with standards…
  • put testing back as a local control issue in school districts.
  •  take the emphasis off evaluating and [compensating] teachers.
  • put the emphasis on good training for principals and curriculum specialists and teachers on how to interpret data and use it for the kind of diagnosis and assessment that it was originally intended for….

It’s politicians and some policymakers who believe tests can do more than they really can. And there’s not enough people stopping and saying wait a minute. When you can summarize a whole bunch of complicated things in a single number, that has a lot of power and it’s hard to ignore, especially when it tells a story that you want to promote. And that’s where it gets really twisted.

He concludes by saying:

“Perhaps if those designing the tests raise their voices alongside those of us who are giving the tests, and the students taking the tests, and their parents as well, we can bring about the change we need.”

Who is Jim Angermeyr?  Why does what he say about Value added measures matter?

Well Jim Angermeyr was one of the architects of the value-added assessment.  He worked with the Northwest Evaluation Association to develop tests.

What do you think Barry McGaw and Tony Mackay?  You were not the initiators of the current MySchool reporting regime but you  through ACARA are its custodians.  Don’t you think you owe it to parents, to children, to teachers and to policy makers to confirm that the arguments put to us by Professor Margaret Wu, by Jim Angermeyr and other psyshometricians have weight and should be heeded.

I respectfully ask that you help us to return assessment to its proper and central place as a classroom diagnostic tool and return testing to its proper place as a population measure of great value for big picture analysis.  We need your voice.

Source: Designer of Value-Added Tests a Skeptic About Current Test Mania – Living in Dialogue – Education Week Teacher.

Carol’s Indigenous students had such an “awesome time” at school that their friends starting coming to class too

In this post,  Aboriginal Engagement by teacher Carol Puskic from Geraldton Senior College in WA, Puskic talks about using a very clever but simple tool which has transformed the energy and engagement of the students in her class – a class specifically for disengaged Indigenous students who come from Halls Creek, Port Hedland, Broome and beyond and board in Geraldton.  The tool is called ClassMovies.

I first stumbled across the ClassMovies project in July 2010 and was so excited by its potential as a tool that teachers could use in so many useful ways that I wrote about it[1]  I introduced the article as follows:

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Writing for Justice – Persuasion from the Inside Out

Writing for Justice – Persuasion from the Inside Out

I highly recommend this article by Mark Hansen because it doesn’t just talk about how to engage students in issues related to social justice.  This teacher has thought hard about how to connect the sense of passion students feel when thinking about social issues to their communication / writing / school work.

Hansen shows that this sort of work requires careful thinking  and a period of time to develop the connections between social justice and students as actors in their families and communities.