Last night SBS had an edition of their usually excellent ‘Insight‘ program, where people involved in a modern issue come to say their piece in an attempt to deliver and overall balanced snap shot of the story. Last night was based on the issue of the creation of ‘League Tables’ and transparency within the Australian education system. Present was Australian Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard who also serves as Minister of Education. For those who are not in the know, the current Australian Federal Government want to basically overhaul the existing education system and make it considerably more like the United States and United Kingdom models, which is an incredibly bad thing, but you would not realise that from the somewhat one sided presentation given by Insight.
After the show Gillard joined the live online chat that Insight offered, in a bid to answer questions. Sadly Insight’s chosen chat system was extremely limited and prone to massive amounts of lag; comments typed in would appear anything up to twelve minutes later, which made having any sort of coherent conversation or debate next to impossible.
Even so, the lack of forthcoming answers was utterly amazing. In usual political style, no hard facts or figures were ever given and the hard questions were simply ignored. A large number of people were there to question Gillard on aspects of her bizarre scheme but answers simply failed to materialise. Some of the major unanswered problems with the scheme include:
- It will only increase stress for all those involved in the educational system. If staff have to meet certain benchmarks that means that they will receive pressure to do so, this pressure will obviously trickle down to the students who will become more stressed – especially at the already hectic years 11 & 12.
- More stress means that there will be increased instances of people simply leaving the profession. Teaching already has a very low retention rate, which approximately half of all graduate teachers changing fields with five years. This is terrible since new teaching talent does not make it to where it is actually needed. More stress means that more leave and the problem only grows worse.
- There is no such thing as two like schools. This should be blatantly obvious to anyone who has had first hand experience in teaching rather than merely sitting behind a desk pushing papers about. How can you compare schools without taking into consideration all the unique circumstances that each school has to take on board each and every day? You simply can not in any fairness.
- What about school zoning? At the moment, the school where you can enrol your child is limited by your geographical area or school zoning – in short, you can only enrol children in public schools reasonably close to where you love (private schools are exempt from this). It does not matter in the least if your school ranks lowly on the proposed league tables; you are still basically stuck there and how do you think being stuck at a low performing school will affect not only student but also staff morale?
- What about private schools? What is to stop a private school turning away students who do not do well on standardised testing? This can only benefit private schools who will then see their own ranking improve massively compared to local public schools – who, of course, will suddenly be burdened with those students who do not do well on tests. In short, private schools will do much better under the proposed scheme while public will do much worse.
- Why is Australia trying to move towards a system like that used in the United States and United Kingdom when the available evidence shows those systems simply do not work? The US’ ‘No Child Left Behind’ policy is almost universally derided as a sad joke, the United Kingdom is backing away from standardised tests as fast as they can. Meanwhile, when you compare Australia’s current literacy and numeracy scores against those two nations … well, we’re miles ahead. So why look back and try to incorporate a system which does worse than our current one? Why not look forward at system that do better than ours (such as Finland and Sweden) and see what they’re doing?
- The proposed system of national testing will only lead to what has already happened in the United Kingdom and the United States: of schools being unofficially forced to perform the practice known as ‘teaching to the test’. This will grossly retard teaching innovation since there will simply not be time to indulge in such. When testing benchmarks become what a school is judged on (and funding is directly tied to it) then that is what schools suddenly need to seek – and the most direct manner in which to do so is to teach to the test.
- Such nationalised testing can not take into account subjects which are practical in nature and can not be measured on a multiple choice test; Physical Education, Music, Woodwork, Metalwork, Drama, Art and so on. These fields will certainly miss out entirely and not be included in benchmark results – which is a shame since it will mean that diversity in schools is diminished.
- Standardised tests simply are not education best practice as anyone who knows anything about education should know. The multiple intelligences and many other widely held educational theories demonstrate how students all learn and display their knowledge in different methods. Some students simply are not ‘hard wired’ to do well on tests and instead display their skills in more practical means. With standardised testing, these students are instantly at a massive disadvantage.
And these are problems that are just off the top of my head. It is almost certain a great many more would appear with more detailed analysis of the proposed scheme.