Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Australia: Stop turning schools into training centres

The teacher below makes a very good case for a broad High School education.  I certainly benefited greatly from one in the traditional school system of long ago.  I came out with a knowledge of two foreign languages, Chaucer, Tennyson, Schubert and Bach, to mention just a few of the things I am so glad about.

As I was writing this I felt transformed by the wonderful music I was listening to at the same time: JS Bach's St Matthew Passion - sung by the Thomanerchor Leipzig (Video with subtitles).  A great pinnacle of Christian music sung by a wonderful choir of German young people. The Thomanerchor, the choir of the Thomaskirche, was founded in 1212 and is one of the oldest and most famous boys' choirs in Germany.

But I learned useful bits about Physics, Chemistry and mathematics too.  And I still became a useful employee.  I ended up teaching statistics and computer programming at university level!  But it is the poetry and classical music that is continually running through my head that gives me unfailing pleasure

But the author below fails to address the problem of how to get good teachers of the humanities. My view is that enthusiasm for your subject is the sine qua non of a good teacher, regardless of the subject.  There are even mathematics teachers who make their pupils enthusiastic about mathematics. My son was so enthused.

But are there enough teachers of humanities subjects who can  enthuse their students?  Obviously not, I think.  So once again we have a case for large class sizes so that the talents of the limited number of enthusiastic teachers can be maximally spread around.  With the aid of class assistants, large classes should rarely be a problem.  So, in my view, the fad for small class sizes is the biggest enemy of a humanities education for all

Going by the language that politicians and their advisers use these days to discuss education policy, you would think teachers are answerable to the business community.

Consider the terminology in the Australian Labor Party’s ‘New Directions’ paper, released in the lead-up to the federal ALP victory in 2007, and you get a fairly clear idea of where the government intended to take education. The paper identified ‘productivity growth’ and ‘human-capital investment’ as ‘the critical link’ to ‘long-term prosperity’, concluding that ‘if Australia is to turn its productivity performance around as well as enhance workforce participation, the Australian economy needs an education revolution in the quantity of our investment in human capital and quality of the outcomes that the education system delivers’.

As Stephen J Ball points out in his book, The Education Debate, the ‘New Directions’ paper collapsed the social and economic purposes of Australian education ‘into a single overriding emphasis on policymaking for economic competitiveness’. This suggests that the so-called ‘education revolution’ had more to do with strengthening Australia’s economic future than radical pedagogical reform and development.

If the current government is dedicated to strengthening education, it needs to establish a clear understanding of teachers’ roles in schools. Do schools need teachers who stimulate curiosity and inspire life-long learning? Or is it ‘trainers’ they need – people who skill-up children for the labour market? If the language Australian principals and school leaders use these days is anything to go by, it’s probably the latter.

Pick up an education policy or ‘school business plan’ and you’re bound to encounter terms that belong in a corporate manual. Attend a staff-development session in an Australian state school and you’re likely to hear reference to the school’s ‘strategic-planning initiative’, and the need to ‘build on maximum capacity’ and ‘value add’. There will also be talk of ‘targets’ and ‘benchmarks’, as well as the need for increased ‘market share’.

All of this suggests that schools are becoming more like businesses that trade in skilled human capital, than places of learning. Put simply, schools are becoming little more than training centres that procure compliant and attentive candidates for the workplace, and lessons are becoming little more than training sessions for the job market.

The American philosopher Sidney Hook wrote that ‘everyone who remembers his own education remembers teachers, not their methods and techniques. The teacher is the heart of the educational system.’ Most of us remember a teacher who had a significant influence on us. Mine was my English teacher. He would enter the classroom with nothing more than the prescribed novel, a stick of chalk, a mellifluous voice and a good story. And with these basic tools he would draw every member of the class into a world of wonder.

It was not easy. But his methods were simple: no jargon, no hackneyed phrases and certainly no corporate language. Just good stories, with which he was able to stimulate thinking and discussion about life’s big questions. I know it’s an old-fashioned notion, but he made learning enjoyable.

As an English and philosophy teacher, my students often ask me how reading a novel written more than 100 years ago, or studying an ancient civilisation, will help them get a job. I say: ‘It’s not meant to. Not everything we do in life, and indeed school, is geared to material gain.’ Forming relationships, engaging in interesting conversation, sharing stories, reading books, inventing, creating and labouring over things you love – all are valuable in themselves. Pleasure is a sufficient reward, and it certainly can’t be measured by a standardised test or exam.

But, sadly, there is very little time for this kind of learning in a curriculum geared to government targets and benchmarks. And there’s hardly any time for students to tinker, make mistakes, pull apart, dissect, rebuild and make serendipitous discoveries.

Informative as the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results are, they can’t tell us everything about the quality of schools. These are crude instruments that don’t take into account the complexities of education. Yet they are gaining increasing prominence in Australian schools. Excessive reliance on National Assessment Program: Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) results, test scores and league tables has diminished the teacher’s role, narrowed the curriculum and substituted real teaching for training kids up for tests.

Any ‘training facilitator’ can impart lower-order rote skills, which require little more than memorising information and conducting simple operations. But, unlike a trainer or an online module where students (or should I say clients?) are required to read, memorise and click to submit, a teacher releases the creative energy that all children possess and fans the flames of curiosity. Teachers help kids make sense of a world that is becoming increasingly complex and confusing. And they help students make sense of the torrent of information the internet spews out, by providing them with something a search engine never can: understanding.

Good teachers enter the profession because they are good communicators, not ventriloquists for technocrats and business leaders. If you want teachers to kill enthusiasm for learning, then tell them to conduct their lessons like a corporate trainer, preferably with the aid of a PowerPoint presentation. Kids lose interest and disengage the moment a teacher stops teaching and begins to train, as many teachers are instructed to do, particularly when it comes to lifting NAPLAN scores.

Here is a revolutionary idea: why not place an embargo on corporate speak in schools? If education analysts are to have a meaningful discussion on advancing education, then why not use meaningful language instead of vapid corporate terminology that would make anyone, let alone a teacher, glaze over?

Schools do not need ‘improvement strategies’ prepared by a consultancy agency; they need teachers, those who have been entrusted by society to teach children to live well. After all, it is the students who will judge teachers, not politicians, economists, business managers or captains of industry.


Contrast in Seattle: Public School Teachers Go on Strike as 'Unconstitutional' Charter School Teachers Remain at Work

As charter school teachers in Seattle are showing up to work despite a court’s ruling their schools unconstitutional, public school teachers in the city are on strike, leaving 53,000 students at home for the first few days of the 2015-16 school year.

“There’s a big irony here right now in Seattle,” said Liv Finne, director of Education for the Washington Policy Center, which advocates for charter schools in the state. “The teachers are on strike in the traditional schools—there’s nobody going to school. Yet, the three charter schools that are in Seattle are open for business.”

The Lawsuit Against Charter Schools

Funding for Washington’s nine charter schools was abruptly cut off on Sept. 4—just days before some schools were set to open—when the state’s Supreme Court ruled them unconstitutional.

The Daily Signal is the multimedia news organization of The Heritage Foundation.  We’ll respect your inbox and keep you informed.

Siding with the teachers unions and other organizations bringing the suit, the justices found “charter schools are not common schools” because they are run by independent operators instead of locally elected school boards, as the state’s Constitution requires.

“It’s really disheartening,” Hong-nhi Do, a 27-year-old 5th and 6th grade learning specialist at Rainier Prep charter school told The Daily Signal. “I think people are choosing politics over kids and families.”

Despite the ruling—and the future of their jobs at stake—Do and her fellow charter educators arrived to school this week, opening their doors to the 1,300 students they serve. In order to do so, they secured a $14 million private donation that will get them through the school year.

“All of our teachers are showing up,” Do said. “Every single one of us is fighting so hard and wants to do whatever it takes to keep our school open.”

After funding for the 2014-15 school year runs out, no one knows what will happen. Charter school operators, along with state lawmakers, are scrambling to figure that out.

One school, Seattle’s Summit Sierra High School, got creative in order to stay open, and had its 120 students fill out forms for homeschooling, the Seattle Pi reported.

The Strike

The charter school ruling coincided with a strike that shut down schools for Seattle’s 53,000 public school students. The strike came after negotiations failed between the Seattle Educators Association and the Seattle School Board.

“Schools will be closed until further notice,” Seattle Public Schools states on its website.

Public school teachers have a variety of demands, including, a “substantial” pay raise, compensation for an additional 20 minutes of instructional time for students, “fair” evaluations and “workload relief.”

According to the non-profit education news site The Seventy Four, Seattle teachers’ median pay is $60,400, not including benefits, which exceeds the city’s median income of $43,200.

The Daily Signal reached out to the union for further explanation of its demands, but they did not reply.

The Conflict

The Seattle Educators Association feeds into the Washington Education Association, which was one of the organizations behind the charter school lawsuit. Ties between the union and the nine Supreme Court justices raised questions after the charter schools ruling came down.

“It’s the worst instance of machine-politics and kids have to be the causality of it,” Derrell Bradford, a Democrat who serves as executive director of NYCAN, told The Daily Signal.

    You have a statewide referendum—it went to the voters and the voters said yes, you’ve got judges who are elected—who are bankrolled by the Washington Education Association, so they’re bought and paid for—who give a ruling based on local control and local elected governance that actually circumvents the local governance of the people because they had a statewide referendum.

Voters in Washington approved a charter school law in 2012, which allowed for the creation of up to 40 charter schools.

According to Finne, director of Education for the Washington Policy Center, four out of the nine Supreme Court justices received the maximum campaign contributions from the Washington Education Association union in 2014.

    Justice Mary I. Yu – $1,900 from Washington Education Association Political Action Committee.

    Justice Mary E. Fairhurst – $1,900 from Washington Education Association.

    Justice Charles W. Johnson – $1,900 from Washington Education Association Political Action Committee.

    Justice Debra L. Stephens – $1,900 from Washington Education Association Political Action Committee.

In 2012, the three remaining justices received maximum political contributions from the same union.

    Justice Susan J. Owens – $1,800 from Washington Education Association.

    Justice Stephen C. Gonzalez – $1,800 from Washington Education Association Political Action Committee.

    Justice Sheryl Gordon McCloud – $1,800 from Washington Education Association Political Action Committee.

In Washington, Supreme Court justices must run for office. Although they are prohibited from soliciting donations, their campaigns may receive them, so long as they abide by the guidelines.

“This is just the natural result of the leadership we’ve had,” Finne said.

A Fight for Control

The dueling situations, Bradford said, “really show you what these people want. And it’s not local control—it’s their control and their control only.” He added:

    On one hand, [the unions] are saying, ‘We need elected school boards, we’ve got to have elected governance, and charter schools circumvent that.’ On the other hand, when they can’t get the deal they want from the elected governance they have, they strike and leave 53,000 kids in the lurch. They don’t want elected governance, they want their governance and when they can kill the competition, the next thing they do is jack up the price. That just hasn’t been, can’t be, and won’t be the best thing for every kid. It’s okay for some kids, but it’s not the best thing for every kid.

A spokesperson for Washington’s Supreme Court declined to comment on allegations surrounding union influence on the nine justices. On Friday, Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced his plans to ask the court to reconsider its decision. The ruling, he said, “also unnecessarily calls into question the constitutionality of a wide range of other state educational programs.”

Programs like Running Start and Washington State Skills Centers provide career and technical education to high school students via state funds, but aren’t controlled by locally elected school boards. For this reason, critics feel the justices targeted charter schools for political purposes.

For some Do, a teacher at Rainier Prep, the situation hits close to home. Do grew up in the same town her charter school is located, and says she “knows what the public schools were like.”

“I have a lot of friends in the area who are now incarcerated or wish they got more out of their education here,” she said. “To see us not be able to accept something that is new and innovative is really disheartening.”


UK: Extra help for poorer students to get jobs: Working class graduates to be given special consideration to try and improves social mobility in professions such as law

Working-class graduates will be given special consideration for jobs at leading firms above affluent applicants.  The move aims to improve social mobility in professions dominated by privately educated graduates, such as law and accountancy.

Bosses said the approach, called ‘contextual recruitment’, could revolutionise the search for staff – but education experts have warned against ‘social engineering’.

From next month, employers will be able to see applicants’ GCSE and A-level grades in relation to the overall performance of their school.

They can then spot applicants whose exam scores look average but are outstanding compared to their classmates. Whether candidates had free school meals or were the first person in their family to go to university are also being included on applications.

Recruits from poorer backgrounds can be ‘flagged up’ and normal A-level requirements could be reduced.

Law firms including Ashurst and Baker & McKenzie have piloted the scheme, which will be used by up to 20 companies. It allows them to access exam results of 3,500 schools and 2.5million postcodes.

Raphael Mokades, of recruitment agency Rare, which designed the system, said: ‘Often the most remarkable candidates don’t shine when firms are sifting through thousands of applications.

‘They might not have done relevant work experience, or climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. But they might have got AAA from a school where the average grades are DDE, while working 20 hours a week in Primark.’

Emma Young, of Ashurst, said the data had helped the firm spot exceptional applicants who may previously have fallen in the ‘average middle’.

Sarah Gregory, of Baker & McKenzie, where thousands of graduates apply for 30 positions each year, said: ‘It has the potential to revolutionise the way we recruit. It will introduce a level playing field.’

Education charity The Sutton Trust has previously revealed five elite schools send more pupils to Oxbridge than two-thirds of the entire state sector.

But Alan Smithers, professor of education at Buckingham University, said: ‘There’s an element of social engineering here because they’re responding to pressure from people like The Sutton Trust that has been taken up by politicians.

‘The emphasis should be on identifying untapped talent, not saying for moral reasons you’ve got to take someone who went to university having had free school meals.’


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