Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Six ways Australia’s education system is failing

The article below is written from a Leftist viewpoint but most of it is accurate.  There is some sleight of hand in discussing immigration effects, though.  Just because East Asian immigrants -- mostly clustered in certain schools like James Ruse High in NSW -- do exceptionally well, it does not mean that Middle Eastern and African students clustered in low socio-economic areas are of no concern.  Such students do indeed produce lowest-common-denominator teaching and thus drag down standards throughout the schools concerned -- to the detriment of Anglo-Australian students also there.

It is also unfair to compare Anglo-Australian students with students in Northeast Asia -- who have markedly higher IQs than we do.  They will of course do well at school but that will reflect their greater individual abilities, not the quality of the education they receive.  Australian students can only usefully be compared with students in other European-origin populations

I am also not convinced that monolingual education is a bad thing.  We already speak the international language of science and business so where is the problem? As it happens, I have some academic qualifications in three foreign languages but that mainly reflects my cultural and academic interests.  For instance, I like to watch operas and operettas performed in the original German and I have found it useful to read Karl Marx in his original German.  I have in fact been the first person to put online translations of some of old Karl's more obnoxious utterances. But there are not exactly throngs of Australian students with that aim.

Amid debates about budget cuts and the rising costs of schools and degrees, there is one debate receiving alarmingly little attention in Australia. We’re facing a slow decline in most educational standards, and few are aware just how bad the situation is getting.

These are just six of the ways that Australia’s education system is seriously failing our kids.

1. Australian teens are falling behind, as others race ahead

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) survey tests the skills and knowledge of 15-year-old students in more than 70 economies worldwide. And it shows that Australian 15-year-olds’ scores on reading, maths and scientific literacy have recorded statistically significant declines since 2000, while other countries have shown improvement.

Although there has been much media attention on falling international ranks, it is actually this decline in real scores that should hit the headlines. That’s because it means that students in 2000 answered substantially more questions correctly than students in 2012. The decline is equivalent to more than half a year of schooling.

Our students are falling behind: three years behind students from Shanghai in maths and 1½ years behind in reading.

In maths and science, an average Australian 15-year-old student has the problem-solving abilities equivalent to an average 12-year-old Korean pupil.

An international assessment of school years 4 and 8 shows that Australian students’ average performance is now below that of England and the USA: countries that we used to classify as educationally inferior.

The declining education standards are across all ability levels. Analysis of PISA and NAPLAN suggests that stagnation and decline are occurring among high performing students as well as low performers.

2. Declining participation in science and maths

It has been estimated that 75 per cent of the fastest growing occupations require science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) skills and knowledge.

The importance of STEM is acknowledged by industry and business. Yet there are national declines in Australian participation and attainment in these subjects. We are also among the bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) 34 nations on translation of education investment to innovation, which is highly dependent upon STEM.

Fewer than one in ten Australian students studied advanced maths in year 12 in 2013. In particular, there has been a collapse in girls studying maths and science.

A national gender breakdown shows that just 6.6 per cent of girls sat for advanced mathematics in 2013; that’s half the rate for boys, and represents a 23 per cent decline since 2004. In New South Wales, a tiny 1.5 per cent of girls take the trio of advanced maths, physics and chemistry.

Maths is not a requirement at senior secondary level in NSW, Victoria and Western Australia, although it is compulsory in South Australia, and to a small extent in Queensland and the Northern Territory. In NSW, the requirement for Higher School Certificate (HSC) maths or science study was removed in 2001. The national curriculum also makes no requirement for maths or science study after Year 10.

Australia is just about the only developed nation that does not make it compulsory to study maths in order to graduate from high school.

A recent report by the Productivity Commission found almost one-quarter of Australians are capable of only basic mathematics, such as counting. Many universities now have to offer basic (school level) maths and literacy development courses to support students in their study. These outcomes look extremely concerning when we review participation and achievement in maths and science internationally.

3. Australian education is monolingual

In 2013, the proportion of students studying a foreign language is at historic lows. For example in NSW, only 8 per cent studied a foreign language for their HSC, the lowest percentage ever recorded.

In NSW, the number of HSC students studying Chinese in 2014 was just 798 (635 of which were students with a Chinese background), whereas a decade ago it was almost double that number, with 1,591.

The most popular beginner language in NSW was French, with 663 HSC students taking French as a beginner in 2013. These numbers are extremely small when you consider that the total number of HSC students in NSW: more than 75,000.

These declines, which are typical of what has happened around the country, have occurred at a time when most other industrialised countries have been strengthening their students’ knowledge of other cultures and languages, in particular learning English.

English language skills are becoming a basic skill around the world. Monolingual Australians are increasingly competing for jobs with people who are just as competent in English as they are in their own native language – and possibly one or two more.

4. International and migrant students are actually raising standards, not lowering them

There are many who believe that Australian education is being held back by our multicultural composition and high proportion of migrant students. This could not be further from the truth. In the most recent PISA assessment of 15 year olds, Australian-born students’ average English literacy score was significantly lower than the average first-generation migrant students’ score, and not significantly different from foreign-born students.

The proportion of top performers was higher for foreign-born (14 per cent) and first-generation students (15 per cent) than for Australian-born students (10 per cent).

Students from Chinese, Korean and Sri Lankan backgrounds are the highest performers in the NSW HSC. The top performing selective secondary schools in NSW now have more than 80 per cent of students coming from non-English speaking backgrounds.

5. You can’t have quality education without quality teachers

The entry scores of people studying teaching in Australia are lower now than in the past. Photo: ShutterStock
While there are many factors that may contribute to teacher quality, the overall academic attainment of those entering teaching degrees is an obvious and measurable component, which has been the focus of rigorous standards in many countries.

An international benchmarking study indicates that Australia’s teacher education policies are currently falling well short of high-achieving countries where future teachers are recruited from the top 30 per cent of the age cohort.

In Australia between 1983 and 2003, the standard intake was from the top 26 per cent to 39 per cent. By 2012/2013, less than half of Year 12 students receiving offers for places in undergraduate teacher education courses had ATAR scores in the top 50 per cent of their age cohort.

Teacher education degrees also had the highest percentage of students entering with
low ATAR scores, and the proportion of teacher education entrants with an ATAR of less than 50 nearly doubled over the past three years. We cannot expect above-average education with below-average teachers.

6. Early learning participation is amongst the lowest in the developed world

While Australia has recently lifted levels of investment in early childhood education, this investment has not been reflected in high levels of early childhood participation. In Australia, just 18 per cent of three-year-olds participated in early childhood education, compared with 70 per cent on average across the OECD. In this respect, we rank at 34 out of 36 OECD and partner countries.

Australia also ranks at 22 out of 37 on the OECD league table that measures the total investment across education as a percentage of Gross Domestic Product.

While low levels of expenditure and participation curtail any system, there is more negative impact from a lack of investment in early childhood than there would be from a lack of funding further up the educational chain. Nobel prize winner James Heckmann has shown how investment in early childhood produces the greatest returns to society.


Conditioning kids to have state-approved sex

The whiff of Brave New World in consent classes for 11-year-olds.

At the beginning of Brave New World, the director of the Central London Hatchery and Conditioning Centre proudly shows a group of students into a room of sleep-learning infants. He gets a nurse to explain what’s happening. ‘We had Elementary Sex for the first 40 minutes’, she tells him. ‘But now it’s switched over to Elementary Class Consciousness.’ For Aldous Huxley, writing in 1932, the idea of state-conditioning centres and infant sex education was far-fetched and horrific - both perfectly set the scene for the nightmare vision of the future he wanted to portray.

Fast-forward to the present day and government plans for mandatory lessons in sexual consent for all children from the age of 11 raise barely an eyebrow. Announcing the proposal earlier this week, the UK education secretary Nicky Morgan argued that the sex education currently on offer does not go far enough. New sex consent classes are needed to target all children (at the moment independent schools and individual parents can opt out) and go ‘beyond the biology’ to include an even greater emphasis on relationships and an explicit discussion of the concept of consent. All of this has to take place before children are likely to become sexually active.

It seems there’s now a state-sanctioned way to have sex and conduct relationships. Parents clearly can’t be trusted to convey this officially approved method in their own homes; instead, teachers need to step in to make sure children receive all the correct messages. Kids deemed barely old enough to walk to school alone will be taught about rape. Yet the only criticism being levelled at Morgan’s proposals is that they are too little, too late.

Morgan has suggested sex consent classes are needed to keep children safe from abuse and exploitation in light of the ‘unimaginable pressures’ they face. The chief executive of the Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) Association, a body which advises schools and teachers on sex education, has linked the need for consent classes to the horrific child exploitation that occurred in Rotherham and Oxfordshire. Girls were routinely abused by gangs of Asian men and systematically betrayed by the social workers and police officers who should have helped them. The idea that a few classes in consent would have prevented this is either extremely naive or, worse, a way of pushing responsibility for what happened back on to the girls themselves.

In reality, Morgan is responding to broader pressure from groups such as the Sex Education Forum, which fights for ‘quality sex and relationships education’ for all young people. Last year, the National Union of Students got on board with this project and, not content with organising its own consent classes for university students, has mounted a high-profile campaign to get statutory sex and relationships education included in all party election manifestos. There are shared assumptions about the pervasive influence of pornography on children, a lack of awareness around the issues faced by LGBT people, and the existence of a dominant rape culture. Despite there being far more heat than light in the analysis of this litany of social ills, campaigners have taken their lead from successive governments that have sought solutions to every adult problem through the re-education of children.

Sexual consent classes are far more problematic than teaching kids how to make a profit in the hope they’ll become future entrepreneurs. Lessons are to focus on ‘healthy relationships’ in an ‘age appropriate’ manner; but who is to say what a healthy relationship looks like? And who, besides a parent, is in a position to judge what is age appropriate for any individual child? Writing in the Guardian, Justin Hancock (‘someone who’s experienced in this field’)  argued that consent classes are needed so that people can have ‘mutually pleasurable’ relationships. But as the popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey shows, when it comes to sex there’s no right answer to the question of what people find pleasurable.

Before children get a chance to grow up and discover sex for themselves, the state will step in and enter their heads and their bedrooms. Consent classes will teach them that relationships should proceed in a particular way and that the decision to have sex with someone should be subject to explicit and ongoing negotiations. Much as the babies in Brave New World are conditioned to reject flowers and nature, children are to be taught that when it comes to sex, passion and spontaneity are dangerous. They’ll be taught that sex without formal consent is abuse and as such, boys are potential rapists and girls are victims-in-waiting. By establishing associations between sex and rape, relationships and abuse, children will be taught to fear intimacy. Consent classes preach the need for constant vigilance and for people to monitor each other’s behaviour, even when in private. The privacy of the relationship will appear risky territory, best guarded against by citing scripts rehearsed in the public safety of the classroom.

Not that long ago, political radicals argued that schools were part of the ‘ideological state apparatus’ and that the church and state’s repressive moral instruction about sex was a means of disciplining individuals and controlling the population. Those arguing for sex consent classes today see themselves as crusaders against rape culture and the protectors of children from abuse. But allowing the state to condition children’s attitudes towards the most private area of their lives will do far more harm than good. Tomorrow’s young adults will be denied the pleasure and the pain of working things out for themselves.

Towards the end of Brave New World, the main character, Bernard, rails against the emotionless sex his education has conditioned him to expect. He tells Lenina, ‘I want to know what passion is. I want to feel something strongly.’ Let’s hope this desire for passion isn’t educated out of children before they ever get to experience it for themselves.


America-phobic Bullies Target Old Glory

Some wonder why conservatives get the impression that many leftists are not patriotic. Well, how about their belief that the ideas of nationalism and patriotism are noxious? We told you!

As you've probably heard by now, Associated Students of the University of California, Irvine voted to ban the American flag from an "inclusive" space on campus. Don't you just love loaded liberal words, such as "inclusive," which mean the opposite of what they imply? Is the American flag includable there?

The language of the bill, passed by a vote of 6-4, with two abstentions (some real courage there), asserts that flags "construct cultural mythologies and narratives that in turn charge nationalistic sentiments" and that "flags construct paradigms of conformity and sets (sic) homogenized standards for others to obtain which in this country typically are idolized as freedom, equality, and democracy."

Before proceeding, let me pause briefly to thank my parents for raising me to recognize such psychobabble for what it is and God for the discernment to filter it. This kind of thinking is amazing but is the logical extension of modern leftism.

To quote the old Ginsu knife ad, "But wait; there's more." The bill also claims that the American flag "has been flown in instances of colonialism and imperialism" and that "symbolism has negative and positive aspects that are interpreted differently by individuals." Well, what do you know? People have different interpretations? What could be more dangerous?

Now for the zinger — and where this line of thinking often ends up: "Freedom of speech, in a space that aims to be as inclusive as possible can be interpreted as hate speech."

Following the disturbing preamble, the bill includes these resolutions: "Let it be resolved that ASUCI make every effort to make the Associated Students main lobby space as inclusive as possible ... that no flag, of any nation, may be hanged on the walls of the Associate Student (sic) main lobby space ... (and) that if a decorative item is in the Associate student (sic) lobby space and issues arise, the solution will be to remove the item if there is considerable request to do so."

These are your tax dollars at work, training students to be ready for a job upon graduation — at community organizing.

After news reports of this insanity, Breitbart News spoke to a UCI student who said she had heard a member of the ASUCI discussing "the (American) flag and how it triggered people." "Trigger," she said, was the word the person used, as in "the flag triggers me." Oh, boy. She speculated that one motivation for the student bill was to prevent "illegal citizens" from feeling bad.

To their credit, UCI administrators stated that they did not endorse the bill, calling its passage a "misguided decision," and the student body's executive cabinet vetoed the bill.

But the controversy and angst over the matter continue as a group of university professors signed a letter supporting the students who attempted to ban the flag. Their rationale? They wrote, "U.S. nationalism often contributes to racism and xenophobia, and ... the paraphernalia of nationalism is in fact often used to intimidate." And: "We admire the courage of the resolution's supports amid this environment of political immaturity and threat, and support them unequivocally."

I am not sure what these pointy-heads are referring to with "political immaturity and threat," but it's obvious that — typical of leftists — they are projecting. You will notice that the intolerance, immaturity "hate" and agitation involved in this brouhaha are coming from those denouncing Old Glory, not those displaying it proudly. These malcontents said not just "nationalism" but "U.S. nationalism," and they didn't show a smidgen of concern for the free expression rights of those displaying the flag.

This is the very mentality that leads people such as President Obama to mock the notion of American exceptionalism. They have a desire to defer important national matters to international bodies, have a gross underappreciation for the U.S. Constitution and advocate open borders. They see themselves as citizens of the world, perhaps more than of the United States.

Why would you care about people flooding illegally across our borders if you are not keen on protecting America's unique system of liberty? Why would you want immigrants to be required to go through a naturalization process whereby they learn the basics of American civics in order to attain citizenship if you don't believe our system is special?

I'll tell you what is offensive and unacceptable, and that is the ongoing distortion of the language employed by these bullies to suggest that positive pride in our nation equates to fear and hatred of foreigners and racism. This is outrageously false, and only those who think that way are capable of accusing others of such warped thinking.

If you believe that the American flag is offensive and emblematic of racism and xenophobia, what's next? Are you going to suggest that we fundamentally transform the United States of America?


Teachers Speak Out Against Common Core

One of the most outrageous features of Common Core education standards is the way they pit teachers against parents. Textbooks and curricula aligned with Common Core actively discourage parental involvement in homework, and new methods for solving math problems are structured in such a way that few parents can understand them enough to help their children.

With this dynamic in place, it’s easy to think of the teachers as the bad guys, trying to separate children from their parents with ever increasing levels of control. But this is a mistake. Common Core was not designed by teachers, but rather by bureaucrats who do not understand the classroom, and many teachers are among the loudest voices of opposition, angry at the way the standards prevent them from effectively doing their jobs.

To illustrate this point, Becky Gerritson of the Wetumpka Alabama Tea Party filmed interviews with a number of teachers willing to speak out about their frustration with Common Core.

One woman, who asked not to be identified, spoke out about the negative psychological impact the increased high-stakes testing is having on children. Whereas her students formerly loved school, she now reports that they are “crying constantly.” “We’re becoming cookie cutter teachers,” she continued. “Our children are cookie cutter children.”

Carol Brown, a kindergarten teacher of 19 years, protested the way the standards force children as young as five or six to spend all day taking written tests, with no time for creative play. When she voiced her concerns publicly, she was told she had to stop or else quit her job. Unwilling to be allow herself to be gagged, she quit.

Mike Parsons, a veteran teacher in Huntsville, Alabama, spoke out about privacy and data collection concerns. “We’re starting to profile our kids,” he said. “Parents are unaware of this.”

Lisa Harris, a retired teacher from Georgia, puts her finger on why the standardization and federalization of education is a problem.“I never saw two children that were alike. They all needed individualized attention,” she said, noting the difference been equality and fairness. The quest for equality means that students are treated unfairly, not receiving the attention they need, and being forced to conform rather than pursue their own path. Applying an “equal” curriculum to a wide variety of students who each learn differently and at different paces is not fair to anyone.

Harris also noted that Common Core is not a Republican or Democrat issue. It goes beyond that, instead dividing people who understand how children learn from those in the federal government who don’t. “The problem with all of this,” Harris said, “is that it’s being controlled by bureaucrats who know nothing about education, in Washington, DC.”

It's not just individual teachers who oppose Common Core, but an increasing number of teachers unions, who were initially supportive of the standards, have come out against them after seeing the devastating effects on classrooms.


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