Friday, April 22, 2011

More work not less

Students in low socio-economic areas need to do more work in high school despite behavioural distractions.  I've listened to colleagues that studied in NSW espousing the benefits of a multi stage course in senior school. I've never really bought into the argument for the majority of students, but for our top end I'm not so sure.

We have the maths academy twice a week after school.  The year 10 students are a keen bunch and are willing to work.  Taking out the two advanced students (and placing them in with year 11 and 12's), the majority of the rest have shown a vast improvement through the extra two hours a week.

This attention for the middle has raised class averages from sixties to eighties (resulting in an avalanche of praise) something I have never been able to achieve before.  Given the statement - students that are behind have to work harder (such as in areas where students start with a social disadvantage) and the fact that extra attention can work for these students (who come in their own time for nothing but the potential for a better grade), it identifies an equity issue that is difficult to ignore.

We put vast amount of effort (and money) into students with behavioural issues - but in many cases we ignore those with academic needs because they cause little trouble and parents are unaware of their potential.  With the lack of performance data in this area - I would say not only parents are unaware of actual potential, I would say schools, teachers, administration and society are also unaware of this potential.  Since our middle management and bureaucracy comes from this pool, we endanger future performance with this neglect.  We are creating a large welfare/low income group onto which we will have to support well into the future.

Teachers are in some part to blame for this - as we individually protect these students by investing our own time, allowing the system to abuse the goodwill teachers have towards their students.  Why pay teachers for putting in extra time if they are willing to do it themselves?  Private schools take this one step further and write donations of family time into school time as a part of extra curricular requirements.  Good people enter teaching - and as such set themselves up to be burned out by unscrupulous employers.  It takes other teachers within the system to identify when this is happening as teacher management itself is near non-existent (as management focus is placed on behavioural issues with students rather than optimising teacher delivery).  If teacher management is attempted it usually a band aid prior to slingshotting them into another role or school.  Result - students fall through the cracks (chasm) on a regular basis.

Once upon a time schools protected academic performance as the core business of a school.  Since losing this focus schools now have other metrics such as attendance and suspensions (resulting in lower crime figures) and year 9 performance on standardised tests (resulting in funding advantages).  Neither of which examine the output of a school vs the input of a school.  It is difficult to take a snapshot of a school as the main metric is measured over 5 year periods.  During this time anything could have changed - especially as student performance can be greatly modified through teacher, principal or community involvement (positively or negatively).

Where schools seek to keep out of the news and have a status quo with students, rather than seeking excellence and pushing them to their limits, it raises students with little resilience and little understanding of their own capabilities.  This is a poor outcome for everyone.

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