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How Good Is Ignoring Just About Everything? OR Back To The Basics Again.

Writing about education reminds me of when Trump was elected. When I wrote something critical of The Donald, a number of people attacked me for being supportive of Hillary who – according to them – was responsible for just about every rotten decision that the United States has made over the past few years. I looked back over what I’d written and I couldn’t find anywhere that I’d said anything about Clinton at all. If you look back over my writing, you’ll find a number of times when I’ve been critical of the USA. Of course, those articles suggested that I go live in Russia, if I like it so much, even though I never said anything positive about it.

Just because I’m critical of one thing, doesn’t mean I support its enemies.

So when it comes to education, if you want to have a serious discussion about what’s wrong with it and how it could be improved, I’m more than happy to engage. If you want to tell me that there were halcyon days when everyone could read above the average and all students could do calculus in their heads, then I have to suggest that maybe you need to actually look at the reality and not your vague impression of the way it used to be.

However…

When I read nonsense like today’s Sundary Herald-Sun, I have to wonder exactly how bad the education really was in days gone by, if people can read it without tearing up their newspaper and cancelling their subscriptions.

Now, I could do a long analysis of why it would be wrong to use Australia’s recent “poor” performance in the PISA rankings to assess the whole education system. I could also point out that America also writes similar articles about how their education system is failing. I could also speculate that we have large numbers of International students from China, which seems strange when we’re being asked to believe that their education system is so much superior to ours.

Even pointing out while the headline screamed “Back To Basics” while the PISA doesn’t test basic skills such as spelling and punctuation, but actually tests thinking; the ability to solve problems and think laterally.

All these things would make an interesting discussion and I’m sure that some would be able to happily find reasons why they can be ignored.

What perhaps was the most galling thing in the article was the idea that somehow students can study literacy and numeracy all the time without referring to anything else. It’s as though some people think if we just sat round drilling kids on the meaning of words, then their literacy would improve. I’m not suggesting that there isn’t a place for the explicit teaching of vocabulary; I am suggesting that students need to do a lot of reading as well. It’s not – as Education Minister Dan Tehan suggested – that students shouldn’t do anything else until they’ve mastered literacy and numeracy… as though they shouldn’t learn any history, geography, health, music, drama or art until they’re literate. Let’s not acknowledge that many of these things help consolidate literacy and numeracy skills.

The paper asserted that 15 year-olds in Australia were several years behind the rest of the world in these tests. Actually, they did no such thing. They merely suggested that our rankings had dropped. While that’s not a good thing, I’d suggest that there a large number of fifteen year olds in third world countries that have had very little schooling and I’d be willing to suggest that we weren’t behind a number of these countries.

Whatever your beliefs on the literacy and numeracy levels, we can have a civilised and intelligent discussion on the best way to go forward in order to improve them. Notwithstanding that, I’d suggest that the push has nothing to do with literacy or numeracy. The idea is being pushed that we’re neglecting these things because the curriculum is too crowded with “left wing” concepts such as Australia wasn’t discovered by Captain Cook because there were already people living here, or that burning fossil fuel may be putting the planet at risk.

The editorial went on to say this in so many words: “From the anti-Australia Day forelock-tugging intelligentsia to the pro-injecting room drug apologists and the climate change alarmists, the views and rights of the average Australian are being trampled by the screaming fringe dwelling minority.”

Fringe dwelling? I thought most people accepted the idea of climate change, even if Australia day is still an excuse for bogans to wear the flag as a cape.

Anyway, It’s good to know that Morrison had a big win in the week when he not only managed to ignore the bushfires but he also managed to stop sick people getting treatment without Peter Dutton’s ok. It’s a great policy and there’s even talk of extending it to Medicare so that we can bring the Budget back to surplus by stopping people going to the doctor without the approval of Home Affairs. And in an effort to stop concerns about climate change, the government unveiled its latest weapon: Men with powerful guns that can shoot anyone reporting on any possible link between climate change and the fires.

How good are quiet Australians?

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23 comments

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  1. One Foot In The Grave

    My fervent hope is that the bastard liar that currently has his porcine arse in the Big Chair will explode in a maelstrom of his own lies.Sooner rather than later,and if you are looking for anything other than garbage,Murdoch’s gutter press should be avoided like the plague.

  2. New England Cocky

    Geez Rossleigh I dunno whether to laugh or cry having survived a life-time at the chalk-face and 20 years ago predicted today’s outcome of “Pay peanuts get monkeys” in the former Bulletin magazine.

    In 1988 the NSW Teaching profession became female teacher dominated and so the Liarbral Party gnomes of the Department of Education SES (DESES) decreed that “these little women” were “only working for pin money” and “not really professional teachers”, so “did not deserve a pay rise” at any time. Still the trend set in as talented teachers, both male and female, saw better financial opportunities and seriously better working conditions in the private sector or general public service. I mean, would a teacher with PE training do better teaching sport (then about $40,000 pa) or running a computer (then about $80,000 pa)?

    Still the DESES continued with their policies of neglect of school building and facility maintenance requiring concerned teaching staff to go on strike to force repairs and maintenance to buildings and facilities. Simultaneously, the pay gap between graduate teachers and graduates in the public service or private sector widened, encouraging more talented prospective teachers to pursue careers other than teaching.

    This did not bother the DESES incumbents because they were safely away from the chalk-board and unruly children in comfortable air-conditioned metropolitan offices safe in the knowledge that their SES allowances made their move out of the broken down schools all the more worth-while.

    Then the Federal and state Lying Nasty People misgovernments accelerated government subsides to private schools providing third rate childcare facilities for aspiring middle class voters keen to exploit the private school social networks for their own benefit and that of their progeny. So the state governments stepped in and ensured that promotions to school executive positions went predominantly to followers capable of filling in mountains of forms to keep otherwise unemployable desk jockeys in Head Office entertained 37 1/2 hours per week.

    Still the state schools outshone private schools in academic contests such as HSC results. Money does not buy excellence, ask James Ruse Agricultural High School alumni.

    There will be little change in the present state of affairs while politicians buy the votes of aspiring middle class voters rather than spend government monies only on government schools. If people want their own school following the state curriculum then they can pay for ti themselves … just as they did before 1961 when government subsidies for private schools began.

  3. whatever

    This ‘teacher bashing’ exercise is just a reflex reaction from the Conservative Govt/Media groupthink.
    They are trying to divert attention away from the unholy parade of Ugly Right misfits who supposedly steer the Nation’s destiny.

  4. Matters Not

    Yes it’s that time of the year when virtually everyone knows what to do about improving student outcomes. For some, research is not necessary because everyone’s been to school and the solutions are plainly evident. What’s somewhat novel this year is the policy expert who scratched the surface, found the ACT did better than the other States and Territories, and recommended that the others adopt the same policies. QED.

    Next year, expect the same researcher to dig somewhat deeper and identify maybe half a dozen students who were the leaders of the ACT pack and recommend that their genes, study practices, SES location (including parental class occupation) become the model for all other Australian jurisdictions.

    Too easy. Next stop will be the Minister for Education. Look out Dan – there’s even someone sillier than you.

  5. Rossleigh

    As someone who has researched education in great depth, I can conclusively say that what works in one place doesn’t necessarily work in another…
    However, my greatest desire is for a politician to stand up and say that it would be a good idea to show students how important that these tests are, and to prove it, we intend to ask every Member to sit the same test to show that they wouldn’t have got where they are without very high literacy and numeracy skills…
    Don’t get me wrong, I’m totally up with giving students the best education we can and without basic skills it’s always a struggle. I’d just like to hear politicians suddenly tell us that there’s more to life than these things and some of the Honorable Members have succeeded because they can _____ (fill in the space)!

  6. Phil Pryor

    Education matters in Australia seem to have been maggoted, white anted, cancered, by conservative bullshit and ignorance. Tehan, who followed the equally worm balls low of Birmingham, is another amateur dud, a totally unfit and inadequate holder of office. Knowing nothing but directions, orders, perverted policy, insane guesses and ancient superstitious lunges, this government has presided over severe declines, DROPS, in every area, education results, rural infrastructure, water management, basic economic wisdom and policy, social decency, handling of valuable resources in government offices and departments, financial prudence, TOTAL failure. IDIOTS.

  7. Rossleigh

    By the way, when I say that I’ve researched education in great depth, I don’t just mean because I’m a teacher. A number of years ago, I thought about getting a Masters in Education, but i couldn’t decide what to do it about so I spent twenty years reading a plethora of books and articles. By the time I’d reached some sort of conclusion about what I wanted to do, I decided that I was too near to the end of my career to bother with a formal qualification, so I just kept reading out of interest.

  8. Rossleigh

    And Phil, from what I’ve read, both from a conservative viewpoint and a radical one, I think your assessement of Tehan is far too generous.

  9. Kaye Lee

    The ABC had a great article about maths teaching which, as a former maths teacher, really resonated with me.

    “teaching is all about nurturing and relationships. Most students will only enjoy a subject if they believe that their teacher is interested in them personally.

    It is a performing art, not a science, requiring a multiplicity of dispositional skills, including communication, empathy, emotional intelligence and listening ability.

    And mathematics teaching requires an additional skill set, akin to that of a logician or scientist.”

    https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-12-07/the-demise-of-australian-mathematics-teachers-students/11768644

    I always find it interesting when politicians want to pay teachers on the basis of their students results. I’d like to pay politicians on the basis of their results. If you predict the economy will grow by 2.75% and it only grows by 1.7% then you haven’t achieved your goals for example.

  10. Rossleigh

    “Within this neoliberal framework, education is represented not as a right, an entitlement, nor as a (public) service, nor even as a process, but rather as a commodity–a thing, to be produced, valued and exchanged in a kind of marketplace. If education is thought of as a thing, it follows that it can be measured, and that different versions of it can readily be compared with each other. And if it is a product, its worth will be an accurate reflection of the quality of work of those who produced it. Much of what has happened in education over the past three decades has been the institutionalizing of systems of standardization, measurement and comparison.”

    — NoNonsense Rethinking Education: Whose knowledge is it anyway? (No-Nonsense Guides) by Adam Unwin, John Yandell

  11. Matters Not

    When it comes to what works re success in schooling was established more than 50 years ago, In the US because of a single paragraph in the Civil Rights Act of 1964, James Coleman led what was then the biggest sociological numerical study ever attempted (600,000 students and 60,000 teachers from 4,000 of the nation’s public schools) –

    concerning the lack of availability of equal educational opportunities for individuals by reason of race, color, religion, or national origin in public educational institutions.

    Coleman expected (yes he made assumptions) to find the difference in resource allocation would be huge and that gap would be the explanation. Put simply, he was wrong. But he did provide an explanation that holds true to this day. He found:

    a student’s family background, coupled with a diverse socioeconomic mix in the classroom, appeared to be the biggest determinant of how well a child would learn. No one had said this before, backing it up with data.

    Yes folks it’s socio-economic status (SES) factors that provide the greatest predictor of schooling success across the developed world. (Note it’s a predictor for a group and not for an individual). It’s why NAPLAN talks about ‘like’ schools. It’s (probably) explains why students in the ACT do better than those in the NT and Tasmania and so on. It’s why we can ‘know’ these results even before the tests administered.

    For reasons of academic ‘balance’, I should point out that Dr Kevin Donnelly has a different view. In that regard, he’s in the same category as the 3% of scientists who … re climate science.

    https://hub.jhu.edu/magazine/2016/winter/coleman-report-public-education/

  12. Michael Taylor

    Ah, all the old team is here. 😀

    Rossleigh was telling me earlier that we’ve now passed 20 million hits. Thank you, all. You did it for us.

  13. Matters Not

    Re:

    pay teachers on the basis of their students results

    Yes payment by results has apparent merit. Let the schools be like football clubs and teachers be like coaches. First, let the schools decide which students they will enrol and those who will be rejected. Second, let each teacher select (based on past performances) who will begin the year in his/her class and give them the power to deselect, transfer etc as the year progresses towards a final exam.

    But why stop at teachers if it’s such a good idea. Why not pay doctors (and nurses) on the basis of survival rates – while giving them the power to decide who they will treat or not. Then there’s soldiers … police, ambulance drivers,

    As for undertakers and clergy .. resurrections seem like a reasonable performance indicator?

  14. Kaye Lee

    SES factors might be a predictor for NAPLAN results – if you give a flying fuck about them which I don’t. In order to help a child achieve their potential, we need to individualise the program and approach as much as our budget and expertise will allow. In order to help teachers improve their approach, we need mentoring and we need to release them from the crap bs stuff they have to do like playground duty and bus duty and roll marking and supervising the detention group and supervising exams etc.

    It’s about providing support.

    I had the bottom year 8 maths class. I was forced to give them common tests, the same as the top class were doing, in order to “grade” them. Here’s a clue….if you are in 8M8 then the grading in comparison with 8M1 has already happened. It doesn’t take red crosses on a paper to let you know how you have been “graded”.

    So I fiddled things a bit. Whatever the top mark was in my class (say 20/100) I would call 100% and everyone else would be marked out of that mark. If someone got 10 on the common paper, they would get 50% in my class. Their face would light up as they said I passed. I would say this has nothing to do with passing or failing anything. It just shows the stuff you are already good at and the stuff you need to work on. And if there is stuff you don’t understand, then we need to work on that together. If you don’t get it, then my explanation wasn’t good enough.

    I gave out a most improved award every test. It was the most coveted as it came with an early mark to get to the canteen lines first with a note that they could put a paddle pop on my account. I could say quietly to the kid who came last, you are a shoe-in for this next test. 5 more marks and it would be yours for sure.

    These kids parents rarely came to parent teacher night, but one dad came and said I just wanted to meet you and say thanks. My daughter is no longer scared to go to maths class.

    Teachers know what we need to do. Stop expecting us and them to be robots.

    But you are right in that home life is something that has a huge effect. School is actually a haven for some kids. Increasing Newstart might be a plan – says everyone.

  15. Matters Not

    KL – no doubt you might have been the greatest teacher who ever entered a classroom or indeed walked the earth but the research cited above is about groups (not you) – sometimes known as large populations not individual students, nor individual teachers, individual families and the like. It’s therefore ‘useful’ for policy making and therefore desirable for resource allocation.

    Then there’s:

    SES factors might be a predictor for NAPLAN results – if you give a flying fuck about them which I don’t

    What’s with the might be a predictor? Are you joining Donnelly’s 3% group as a ‘denier’ of sorts? An educational anti-vaxxer? (Lol.)

    One could go on and on and then some more but I won’t. Suffice to say that when one claims to accept the ‘science’ and ‘findings’ in one realm but deny it others – not sure what meaning(s) to give to that somewhat out of character position.

  16. New England Cocky

    @Kaye Lee: “[A]s a former maths teacher” and hence the logical flow of ideas. But it is encouragement creating self belief that is important in schools.

    While teaching Science under a wise Science Master who saw the many benefits of streamed education so that talented students were challenged rather than disinterested, we ran three graded classes in parallel and moved kids between classes at the end of each term based on common test results. This built self confidence because the marking system was transparent, brutally honest and well-known by the students. In a boarding school situation it caused ructions because a successful student broke the image of themselves built by others resulting in boarding house bullying, even to the extent of the successful student changing schools to continue their academic growth.

    This policy applied in Mathematics built self-confidence, but repairing the inadequate times tables knowledge of students provided angst for an uncaring Principal.

    @MN: Why do I get the impression that you know absolutely nothing about this topic?

    NAPLAN is a scam designed to bleed government money into subsidies for the private school sector to obfuscate the fact that after more than 50 years of government funding, when compared to state schools, private schools remain third or fourth rate child minding services for the aspiring middle class Australian voters prepared to nuzzle up to the government purse for a free handout, just like the corporate heroes exalted by the MSM.

    @Michael Taylor: Congratulations on this fine 2×10^7 achievement! I expect Spud Duddo will send around a couple of his cronies to discuss an advertising contract to freshen up the government image before his fascist takeover.

  17. Terence Mills

    In the meantime the government has gutted TAFE and then employs Scott Cam at $345,000 to encourage young people to take up training in trades.

    Am I missing something here – seriously ?

  18. Poking Wryneck

    Watching the run up to the British elections, out is blindingly clear that the British Labour Party, like the Australian Labor Party, no longer exists. So much so that George Galloway – not everybody’s cup of tea but certainly mine – has now established a new political party called The Workers Party.
    Long overdue. The Labour Party under Brown GAVE the private banks – which caused the semi-destruction of the British economy -£436,000,000,000 (I presume the US version of ‘billion’ was used).
    The bankers promptly gave themselves bonuses.
    One of Galloway’s followers suggested that the money would have been better used to restore the Civil Service that the Blairites and his preceding and subsequent Conservative governments largely disbanded. Not too different here. Half of the current Labour Party in the UK are ‘remainers’ occupying seats that voted overwhelmingly to Brexit. The Labour Party will lose those seats, some of which have only ever returned Labour members, to the Conservative Party, led as it is by a prat who combines all
    the absurdities of Trump and our very own happy clapper.
    In South Australia in the 50’s they had a Liberal premier who had the balls to rip control of the power network from private hands and ‘nationalised’ it because the owners were doing what privateers are doing now. Politicians like that do not exist in any parliament in Australia.
    Australians do not accept that any of us is ‘working class’, so the Labor Party appeals to a very small – and diminishing -rump of voters. We are all ‘middle class’, even the people like my new next door neighbour, who has three cars and a boat – all four purchase on ‘terms’, but rents a low socio- economic home and sends his only child to a private school, because public schools are ‘working class’.

  19. Rossleigh

    Yes, Terence, you’re missing the $300,000 for a part time job whose function is to tell people that they can earn heaps as a tradie so they should have done it before TAFE was gutted!

  20. Kaye Lee

    Terence,

    I also remember when Tony Abbott abolished the overseas adoption agency and then a few weeks later, stood up with Hugh Jackman and his wife to announce that he had ordered his department to set up an interdepartmental working group on overseas adoption.

    ”When you disband a group that had really experienced people on it . . . you would have really thought you would have kept that group going if you were going to make an announcement like yesterday,”

    The Prime Minister would like the review to result in change within the next 12 months.

    Yet despite the Prime Minister’s enthusiasm, a leading adoption advocate said the last thing Australia needed was another review into the adoption system when the federal and state governments had not ”implemented the recommendations from the last one”.

    https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/tony-abbott-disbanded-expert-adopt-advisory-group-weeks-before-pledging-action-on-the-issue-20131220-2zp3u.html

    And how many times have you heard that story – get rid of people with knowledge, have a review, and then ignore it.

  21. Jack Cade

    Re Poking Wryneck.

    George Galloway said that the English Black Country used to be the ‘Workshop of the World’, now it’s the Op Shop of the World.
    Nobody actually speaks for the disenfranchised working people, excepting liars like Trump and, in Australia, Pauline Hanson. The Democrats in the USA, the Labour Party in Britain, and the ALP in Australia have abandoned these people, and charlatans like Trump, Hanson and Morrison are filling the void. They, however, are like quicksilver, they’ll slide away when the votes have been cast and the pressure is off.

  22. Wobbly

    The fascists along with everybody else knows that education IS empowerment and for that reason alone the poor shall have none.

  23. Wat Tyler

    Kaye Lee

    ‘Get rid of people with experience…’ and replace them with defeated LNP candidates or staffers.

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