Thursday, January 14, 2010

Headlines rather than journalism

The poor journalism at Channel 7 continues with a sensationalist report aimed at placing doubt on teacher quality by drawing conclusions from statements that were not causal.

The headline stated that teacher quality was the main reason for state school improvement, whereas Neil Hunt (the principal of Churchlands SHS) stated that teacher improvement programmes were a major factor. A poor quality teacher cannot improve, teacher quality has little to do with the quality of improvement programmes.

Sharon ONeil called for schools to closely examine student statistics. This also is not a statement about teacher quality. Underlying this statement is the fact that lower student input in year 7/8 means that lower student output in year 12 is also likely. Where state schools competed outside of the big five with competitive entry (Perth Mod, Churchlands, Rossmoyne, Shenton, Willeton) then there is something very good going on in those schools and they should get a pat on the back (Belridge, Duncraig etc.).

Should we fire a new teacher because they are gaining experience? Should only teachers with experience teach at higher levels? Is a C result for a class of disaffected kids worse than an A result in a talented and motivated class in a green leafy? How do we measure quality and their results? Teacher quality is not a quantifiable measure of a school.

Furthermore, I suppose the media thinks that saying it's the best achievement in years is help but it is disingenuous if you then immediately show that state schools are performing worse than private and independent schools - they have re-inforced the gap especially if connections to catholic and SES status are not also drawn. Sensationalist, with little purpose and damaging to the sector. A report completely lacking journalistic integrity.

If the media continues to bash state schools then we can't expect to close the gap to the private sector. We ask a lot of low SES kids, when they compete with kids with strong educational backgrounds. To compete effectively we need to attract more middle class kids that have clear examples of the benefits of an education.

I understand that some level of criticism and improvement must be publicised for parents to again get confidence in the public system, but we have to be careful in its implementation and remember that the core of the issues faced are as a result of poor government management, planning and implementation over a long period of time (especially during the OBE implementation). To scapegoat teachers as requiring "quality" improvement (inferring that teachers in general lack quality without stating whom, what or how it will be fixed), damages the integrity of the system and does not attempt to address the underlying issues causing the fall in standards.

For state schools to improve they need to attract the full range of students, not just those that can't afford private education. If the current trend continues, most state schools will become part of a safety net, ending in continued inequity for low SES families.

For the profession to increase in status and output, we need to acknowledge the good work done, manage improvement where necessary and ensure applicants have the capability and training to do a good job. I'll leave it to the experts to manage how these changes can be brought into effect.

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