Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Newspaper reporting

I had the unfortunate experience today of reading the Australian and again finding an article that showed little research and was basically just a beat up bit of sensationalist nonsense. I am happy to beat up the union under normal circumstances but this article in my opinion is poor journalism as it uses emotive language and unsupportable assertions.

"How will it wangle agreement on education reform from state Labor governments beholden to teachers unions? When the West Australian teachers union won pay increases of 21.7 per cent earlier this year, union boss Anne Gisborne boasted that "one of the strongest elements behind this has been the political campaigning that our members have had on track for eight to 10 weeks".

If Janet Albrechtsen had done her research she would know that the 21.7% was not seen as a win, nor was the main push by the union (the push was from state government onto the union to resolve the agreement to the satisfaction of the state government to prevent the wage claim being an election issue). The offer was seen as so poor by union members (don't get me started again on how misleading it is to call it a 21.7% increase without clarification that it is over 3 years and that only a small percentage of teachers would receive that amount.. blah.. blah.. blah..) that it was rejected despite direction from the "union boss" to the contrary. This is hardly the stuff of a powerful union and more of a union boss beholden to state government.

More so it is bizarre that she has chosen WA today as the example of a Labor government/union impediment to federalism as WA now has a Liberal government.

"Consider the union reaction to the Rudd Government's education revolution outlined last month by the Prime Minister and his deputy, Education Minister Julia Gillard. Reforms to make education more transparent by mandatory reporting of student results, allowing parents to compare school performance? Opposed by unions."
And rightly so. Anyone working within a school would know that socioeconomic factors influence the ability of students to perform. Yes, students are as bright in low socioeconomic areas as in other areas but the effect of poor environment and lack of parental support cannot and should not be discounted. This affects school results greatly. Comparing school results puts undesirable pressure on schools to focus on measurables and not on the best possible education of a student. One only needs to look at the effects of league tables in WA and the outcome of students being discouraged to take TEE subjects as a key negative outcome of mandatory reporting.

"Transparency and accountability reforms that will enable the most disadvantaged schools to be identified and receive extra funding of $500,000 for your average school so that they may improve? Opposed by unions."
How will comparable schools be identified and how will improvement be defined? Provide a reasonable workable model and there would be support for such measures. Make overarching statements with deadlines for implementation that can only produce wafty goals and of course there will be opposition. The major reason for the reduction in educational results in WA schools is OBE and the rise of the heterogeneous classroom. In disadvantaged schools this has been a disaster as teaching 4-5 different levels in a classroom has resulted in dumbing down of curriculum. Government fault yes, school fault no.

"Moves to give greater autonomy and flexibility for principals to hire staff? Opposed by unions."
Ok. I agree with Janet here. Permanency is an archaic concept as is the indenture model inflicted on teaching graduates. A move to a currency based economy where scarcity drives salary is desirable (but can the state afford it?).

"Moves to introduce performance-based pay for teachers to encourage better teachers? Opposed by unions."
Performance management in schools is non-existent/ineffective. Fix this first and then introduce performance based pay. With the limited management skills and time available in schools today, the introduction of another layer of administrative requirement would take time, money and skills the sector clearly does not have.

"Moves to introduce a national curriculum so that students moving between states and territories can access a seamless education system? Opposed by unions."
Yes, and it is no wonder given that we have just overcome the last educational fad. The ability of government to deal in 3 to 4 year terms does not equate to the requirements of educational facilities that run to 12 year periods. Bipartisan support is required from both sides of the political fence to adequately trial and research the effects of a curriculum in a range of schools across Australia before implementing in all schools. This is of course politically unacceptable as the completion time is greater than one political term.

Thankfully blogging is an outlet for opinion and the need for accuracy is lessened as by definition and intent it is a discussion between the reader and writer on a topic. It is scary when journalists are allowed to present poor research in the form of fact within traditional media. The public can be given the completely wrong impression through faith in journalistic integrity. I must admit, like many readers, my faith is dwindling faster in media news outlets with each year that passes.

The full article can be found here:,,24427663-32522,00.html

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