Monday, April 19, 2010

Issues with national curriculum

Today at a PD of five secondary schools and their mathematics teachers, we had a quick look at the national curriculum. As an upper school teacher, the demands of teaching upper school are significantly reduced under national curriculum with many upper school courses being pushed back into middle school and a lot of middle school algebra pushed into primary school. I don't necessarily think this is a bad thing.

Strengths that were raised by presenters were that it was put together by experts, that the course was being simplified (would contain less material with more depth), that when questioned by parents for course suitability teachers could point to the syllabus (reducing uncertainty) and that it assisted in course transferability (eg. between states).

The first issue identified by the audience was that it was a one size fits all approach. This means that many students will fail a year and then be unable to do the work in following years leading to students unable to achieve anything higher than a 'D' causing reduced motivation and higher instances of behavioural issues (for this reason alone I will re-iterate that anything other than normalised grades in classes is a poor solution).

The second issue was that for at least 5 years students will not have the capacity to complete middle and upper school mathematics as there are a considerable number of missing attributes in our current curriculum. Students taught under the current system will not be able to effectively participate under the new system without extensive remediation especially in operations and algebra. Given that this remediation needs to occur during an 'increasingly packed' lower school curriculum this is unlikely to occur.

The third issue relates to WA primary extending to yr 7 (resulting in a lack of specialist mathematics teachers in year 7) and primary schools being ill equipped to teach pre-algebra and algebra. Given the number of students that currently enter yr 8 'algebra ready' I tend to concur that this is a problem that could be solved by national curriculum (although nobody is saying how this will occur). I have no idea how long it will take for texts to be prepared and primary teachers upskilled to be able to present the material, but it will be longer than the current implementation date of 2011. No allowance for upskilling has been allocated to schools in low performing NAPLAN states WA, QLD, TAS and NT where the current curriculum is less rigorous due to population and historical factors.

The fourth issue relates to endpoints mapped in the current NCOS of study for year 12. Under the current plan there will be little requirement for 1B-2C as students will theoretically be well past the 2C benchmark if they successfully complete the yr 10 national curriculum. This caused some laughter and raised the more important point that we really need a range of courses 8-10 (focus, intermediate, advanced) to cater to a range of student abilities and to stream courses into NCOS subjects.

The fifth issue related to students in low SEI areas, where developmental lag is a real factor. The new curriculum has the potential to completely destroy students chances of catching up over the schooling years as students with a poor starting point are more likely to fall further and further behind as each year progresses. Furthermore, there is no allowance for students in current cohorts that are six months behind due to starting age differences between the states.

The sixth issue is that population size has to be a factor in determining the best course for a state. It will be harder for smaller states to generate the critical mass for harder courses, as the geographical aggregation of higher socioeconomic students is going to be attained in fewer areas. Running courses for 2-3 students is not going to be viable for many schools (especially with the attention on student/staff ratios) although not running these courses has catastrophic effects on staff retention (the best teachers will not go to schools without these courses running), student attraction (students that may have the potential (eg your top 10-15% will go elsewhere) and school morale.

One way to alleviate these issues raised by the group was to start holding students back if they could not meet the standard (eg pass the course with a fair chance of success in following years). This was dismissed as an unlikely solution by presenters although is a common solution in upper school courses.

It was not known by presenters whether accreditation to teach subject areas was being discussed (although that inference that this is a current agenda could be drawn from this media release by Julia Gillard yesterday). It's not a difficult prediction to make that implementation issues will be ignored, blame laid at teachers feet when the implementation fails in WA, QLD, TAS, NT, then an 'accreditation programme' instituted to identify capable teachers to deflect from the real issues listed above and the government policies that created the situation in the first place.

It was put by presenters that teachers had discussed all of this before at the start of (unit curriculum, OBE, 'insert other fad here') and we needed to just roll with the punches and get on with it as we always do. I think this is my main gripe about Julia Gillard, her inability to accept that this is the reality and that change is driven by government - not schools and that poor performance should be laid squarely by policy makers and change agents - not teachers. Furthermore, ill conceived ideas and implementation causes much angst amongst the teacher population and further resistance to change.

I don't think it is that the issues can't be overcome and that national curriculum will ultimately fail but a rushed implementation to political (4 year cycles) rather than educational (12 year cycles) is not appropriate. I still can't understand why this could not have started with a limited rollout and then moved across the country over the following decade using a staged approach. Given the rush for implementation and the suck it and see approach "the acceptance of ongoing failure before we find success", I think that this has the potential to cause a lot of heartache in the short to medium term.

I really hope those with the experience (and will) to guide us through this stand up and be counted. It's not only the students that will suffer in the long term.

1 comment:

Hi, thanks for leaving a comment.. it's good to hear what people think!