Thursday, August 28, 2008

Education revolution - Bah humbug!

When someone uses revolution in a sentence, I usually put the following talk in the same category as others that include inclusive, flexible, robust and my all time favourite.. well... I try not to be cynical but election campaigns are always full of sensational headlines and little else when you dig a little deeper.

Here comes the usual garbage through my letterbox from state government politicians talking about greening the planet whilst cutting trees putting junk mail into my letterbox that goes direct to the bin. The latest junk being performance tables for schools.

I am not an advocate for school league tables. A better indicator for prospective parents is to speak to local parents about how students were treated by the school over the five year period. A school's reputation is its life blood. Conversely collating data and independent analysis privately reviewed is a great idea. Acting on these issues and seeking remedies over time in the public's best interest would be fantastic.

The only reason to release league tables is to accept that the government cannot act in the best interest of the public and the public needs access to the information to decide for itself. To accept this is to accept that the public has lost the faith in government. This is a direct indictment on the quality of our political leaders and public servants. One only has to look at how elections are won and lost - often on the actions of individuals rather than on their ability to govern. If parents had faith in government, the decision of parents would be geographical or financial as it has always been. Devolution of responsibility to schools is open acceptance that government cannot accept the responsibility/risk associated with governing schools. They are not capable or willing to remedy issues and are relying on market forces to do it for them. This is the heart of the safety net path I discussed in an earlier post (we'll take them if no one else will).

There are many reasons for poor results and to release the data with no analysis of why it has happened is not fair on a school. A school has poor results for many reasons - poor teaching, demographic change, a change in leadership, weak leadership, a lack of experienced staff, a large number of inexperienced staff, behavioural issues with specific students/classes, resourcing, a weak cohort, changing curriculum, socioeconomic reasons, issues with feeder schools. The list is unending.

Will a poor school be able to attract better students to raise its status after negative reports? Will poor reports relegate a school to a slippery slide of not attracting better students or teachers for fear of the school closing?

And what makes a good school? Is it the results of the top ten percent? The number of students without criminal records after five years? University entries? Students that gain incomes over $100,000? Students that don't end up divorced? Students that do well/better on standardised tests? Schools where parents are happy? Low teacher turnover?

How will statistics provide a fair and equitable benchmark for measurement of performance when high and low performance of students, teachers and administration is nigh on impossible to define and measure? People get very clever at analysing how scores can be manipulated.

I must say that I think these questions raise more questions than answers and that politically it seems it is just a smokescreen aimed to reduce inflationary pressures caused by police/teacher/nurse/public service wage claims and take away the focus from economic forces.

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