Categories
Education Leadership

Making teachers nervous the key to lifting standards?

nervous emojiFour years ago I wrote a piece for the UK Huffington Post reflecting on the nonsense being espoused by the then head of OFSTED, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Upon his appointment as Chief Inspector of Schools he dispensed this advice to UK headmasters:

“A good head would never be loved by his or her staff. If anyone says to you that ‘staff morale is at an all-time low’ you know you are doing something right.”

In the same piece I noted that whilst now living in Australia, it was prudent to keep an eye on UK education matters, as more often than not, Australia adopts education strategies and policies borne out of the UK – albeit with a significant time lag – for example, standardised testing, national curriculum etc.

And now it seems Australia is at it again.

News broke this week that the NSW Board of Studies, Teaching and Educational Standards (BOSTES) will now be known as the NSW Education Standards Authority and will be given even more power to lift school compliance and teacher quality.

In a Sydney Morning Herald article, NSW Education Minister – the usually sensible – Adrian Piccoli said,

“The board ought to make schools nervous around school registration requirements, and it ought to make teachers nervous around teaching standards.”

Why the minister would want to add to the stresses already at play in schools is beyond me. For example, in Australia, school principals are five times more likely to face threats of violence than the general population, and seven times more likely to face physical violence whilst statistics show that early career teachers leave the profession at alarming rates. I can only presume he has taken advice that suggests instilling fear into already-stressed individuals and organisations is best for lifting outcomes. (I’m yet to read any research that suggests this is the case… but hey-ho).

And how will – do you think – the minister and the NSW Education Standards Authority determine whether these nervous teachers have improved? What targets will be set? Go on… I bet you CAN guess…

Take it away Tom…

In that same SMH article, Tom Alegounarias, who will become the part-time chair with a chief executive beneath him in the new structure, cited the highest achieving education jurisdictions globally as a target for NSW.

“It’s about setting our targets against international standards. How do we get to Shanghai, how do we get to Finland?”

Clearly I can’t miss the opportunity to suggest to Tom that the best way to get to either Shanghai or Finland would be by plane – boom-tish! (I’m here all week!)

But I have written before as to why we shouldn’t be overly smitten with China’s approaches to education (seriously… cigarette companies sponsor schools) or uncritically fawn over Finland (for example, youth unemployment is double that of Australia).

Unsurprisingly, Alegounarias also suggested that the reform would be deemed a success if there was “a big bump” in the state’s NAPLAN results in the next few years. This reductionist approach is concerning given that it has actually been suggested that such a “bump” would prove nothing. In case you don’t want to read that article in full, here is a very important section of it… (italics indicate direct quote from the article and I’ve added bold to the bits I think are really important).


Margaret Wu states that the fluctuation in NAPLAN scores can be as much as ± 5.2. This is because of a standard error of measurement of about 2.6 standard deviations.

This means there is a 95% confidence that if the same students were to complete the same test again (without new learning between tests) the results would vary by as much as ± 5.2 (2.6 x 2) of the original score. This represents nearly 12% variability for each individual score.

The standard error of measurement depends on the test reliability, meaning the capacity of the test to produce consistent and robust results.

What some researchers say is that the NAPLAN test’s large margin for errors makes the comparison across years inaccurate.

For example, if a student gets 74% in a test and another gets 70% and the error is 5, that means that essentially the first mark is 74 + or – 5, and the other mark is 70% + or – 5.

This means the two different marks can overlap by a fair bit. So it is not really possible to say a score of 74 is that much different to a score of 70.

The implication is that when you take this into account over a whole cohort of people it is difficult to sat (sic) categorically that one set of marks is any different compared with another.

In short:

Teachers and principals should not be judged based on NAPLAN findings and, as others have argued, more formative (assessment during learning) rather than summative (assessment at the end of a learning cycle) measures for providing teaching and learning feedback should be explored. 


What concerns me most is this stuff about NAPLAN – as well as research around teacher wellbeing – isn’t written on a scroll hidden inside a booby-trapped tomb within the grounds of a mythical city that no-one can find… it’s on the inter-web-thingamajig… and I’m pretty sure that most government buildings would have access to that. And before people counter with research that suggests the opposite – that teachers are lucky to have the job they have and could use a little more stress in their lives, and that NAPLAN rocks – I’m only putting forward the links here by way of adding to the conversation.

Too many arguments in education are based around all-or-nothing binaries, and people are quick to jump into one camp or another and attach a hashtag. But I reckon the solutions might a little more nuanced than that.

But nuance does not a vote winning catch cry make, or a feel good movement create…

To understand more of the nuance, the government could ask teachers what they think (like I did on Twitter) – click the tweet to see the discussion that follows…

But then again, open discussion with the profession might make politicians nervous.

Categories
Change Education

Snake, Walkmans, Moments & School…

What do these three things have in common,  and why on earth would I waste your time asking you that question?

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If you’re of a certain vintage you’ll be aware of just how amazing Nokia phones were.

What’s that? You can’t remember? Check this out.

Of course, Sony Walkmans were so popular even competitor’s offerings were referred to as Walkmans, and how many times have you thanked your lucky stars that your Kodak Moments weren’t captured in the era of Facebook or Instagram?

Nowadays, a straw poll of any group I speak with shows that very few have a Nokia phone, Sony Walkman (yes they still make and sell Walkmans) or have a Kodak anything… 

Why? We haven’t stopped communicating, listening to music or taking pictures – in fact we’re probably doing all three more than any generation before us – and yet all three companies have had to diversify to survive.

How did Sony in particular, given they owned a heck of a lot of music and the most widely used personal music device, miss the boat?

Is it possible they were so confident in what they were offering, they didn’t need to consider an alternative scenario?

Maybe. Lot’s of analysts have… erm… analysed the ups and downs of these companies in more detail than I have here, but that’s what I see they have in common.

Ok… so why waste your time with that?

What if education institutions as we know them are the Nokia, Sony and Kodak of Learning. We all know people – lots of them – who attend them, work in them and/or are generally in favour of them. They are the market leaders in Learning so to speak, with a captive audience.

Most would agree that education institutions offer two things – amongst a raft of other opportunities of course.

  1. A forum to enhance your knowledge, understanding, and skills in order to engage with the world.
  2. Access to qualifications/accreditation that further your education or employment options.

How has technology and changes in society and the economy disrupted this? Well the truth is, they haven’t – not much – really – yet.

But what about when they do? What will happen when society realises some of the short comings of its education system?

At one end of the academic spectrum, the majority of the long-term unemployed are young people who left school in the last ten years, whilst at the other, hundreds of medical graduates can’t find internships.

I wrote a fair bit about the fact we’re educating our kids into unemployment for the Sydney Morning Herald. 

Anyhoo… I noticed of late there seems to be some fairly distinctive lines being drawn in the sand with regard to the whole “Is School Fit for Purpose?” debate…

And these lines are not really furthering the debate. Too many are picking sides, picking names (progressive, traditionalist, 21C, anythingpreneur etc.) and picking fights.

A case in point:

This is a tweet from Britain’s School Behaviour Tzar Tom Bennett:

Now to be fair to Tom – he is an incredibly well-respected (by the profession & the government) commentator – some of the language in the graphic that he links to is well and truly ripe for a laugh, but I fear that by setting it up as the work of “an idiot” – he encourages the subsequent replies that his tweet receives… all eye-rolling etc…

The fact is that some  of the concepts that the graphic is trying to convey are worth discussing. To deny that seems a bit daft to me, And by going to the nth degree – on either side of the debate – much of the nuance in lost.

I believe it’s in this nuanced space where the education debate must take place so we can ask and then address questions like:

  • Why do our ‘best and brightest’ students feel the need to cheat at their selective schools or in their university courses?
  • Given Finland performs relatively well in PISA, why is it their Youth Unemployment rate around 24.5%? (By comparison in Australia it’s around 12% and we think that’s high.)
  • Why do Gallup regularly report that in Australia, around 30% of Year 5 kids and 50% of Year 12 kids have disengaged from learning?
  • What’s the best way to prepare students – and ourselves – for the workplace given that many estimate that 50% of the workforce will be freelance in the next decade?
  • And what do we make of the fact that Ernst & Young has declared that in the UK, they no longer take into account an applicants A-Levels or degree qualifications? Often educationalists cite tech companies like Google or Apple as examples of the shifting economy and workplace… but here we’re talking about accountants.
  • What happens to our institutions when we recognise the education system is failing too many kids, that learning can happen anywhere and that traditional qualifications might not carry the weight they once did?
  • And how long will it be before we realise that either/or arguments are unlikely to present many insights to these questions?
Categories
Education Leadership Wellbeing

3 things you (probably) didn’t know about Finland

FinlandEvery couple of years, the OECD publish a report from their Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). Their findings are (very helpfully) compiled into league tables, charting the performance of each of the participating countries in maths, literacy and application of scientific knowledge.

These tables are then used to fuel media stories like this one, which make claims like:

“Australian schools should copy their top-performing Asian neighbours and push to keep only the best teachers in the classroom if local students are to stop slipping further down the ladder.”

The PISA report also provides ammunition for politicians like Education Minister Christopher Pyne to come up with gems like this:

“We’ve spent a great deal of money, 40 per cent more on school education in the last 10 years, but we haven’t focused on the basics – teacher quality, autonomy in schools, parental engagement and the curriculum. We’ve allowed ourselves to be distracted with other issues. And our competitive – competitor nations, particularly in Asia, they have focused on the basics.

 

We need to have a back-to-basics approach.”

So what’s this got to do with Finland? After all it seems the media and the politicians are only focused on beating our Asian competitors.

Well, many of the opponents to the “Beat Asia” campaign, cite the Finnish education system as the one we should look to in order to raise standards.

I’m all for looking at other systems to see what we can learn. Indeed it was when I looked at the Finnish system I learned the following…

1. More than 30% of Finnish students say they aren’t happy, or they do not belong at school.

According to the last set of PISA results (PDF) – published in 2013 – on average, 20% of Australian students report they are not happy or that they do not belong at school. Yet in Finland, 32% of students report that they aren’t happy.

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Since PISA started, we have seen a steady decline in the amount of kids who feel they belong in schools in Australia, but interestingly, this decline has been even more pronounced in Finland.

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This is of particular interest to me given the link between school connectedness and wellbeing. 

2. The Youth Unemployment rate in Finland currently stands at 23%

The Finnish rate of Youth Unemployment runs at almost double that of Australia’s current rate of Youth Unemployment that stands at 12%. 

I’m not sure the significance of this to be honest, but I do find it interesting.

What is the education system doing if it serving kids well on standardised tests but not enabling them to get into the workforce? I’d love to get a better perspective if anyone is well placed to offer me some advice?

I’ve previously attempted to tweet Pasi Sahlberg to get his thoughts on this, but he’s a busy guy. If anyone knows him, could you ask him for me please?

3. Finland value different things & different people in education

OK, you probably thought this might the case, but it is nevertheless still interesting to note the different reactions of Christopher Pyne and his Finnish counterpart in the face of declining standards.

Whilst Pyne spoke about competing, getting back-to-basics and teachers who weren’t up to scratch…

When questioned what her thoughts were about the fact the likes of Liechtenstein and Estonia had overtaken Finland in Maths, Finnish Education Minister, Krista Kiuru said:

“We will bring in not only experts in research and education and political decision-makers but also student representatives and parents. Besides strengthening equality, we must find means to improve and sustain motivation in learning and studying and make schools a good environment to be in.”

Krista Kiuru engages education experts, students and parents in order to make schools a better environment to be in.

Christopher Pyne brings in Kevin Donnelly.

For me, this is one of the main reasons why we should look to Finland to see what we can learn from them. Their focus on the bigger picture.

Categories
Education Social Commentary

The Great Australian Education Debate

My somewhat cynical, tongue-in-cheek, superficial (call it what you want) take on the education debate in Australia.

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