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More recent posts and pages take up the education debate with essays on every aspect of education including economics and community and inequality. These are derived from a set of essays which hopefully will be commercially published shortly dealing with education.
January 19th, 2013
Everyone, almost, agrees that teachers are the key element in the education of children in school. As the McKinsey reports on effective teaching, based on analyses of the OECD PISA’s reports, observed, the only way to improve student outcomes is to improve the quality of classroom teaching across an entire system. The best-performing systems around the world go to great lengths to ensure that all their teachers are well qualified and well prepared in the subjects they teach and have access to high-quality, ongoing professional learning opportunities.
Several essays explore effective teaching and summarise some of the most important research on effective teaching and highlight some case studies. In this first one I deal with a very important meta-analysis of education outcomes; a subsequent one will summarise a particularly interesting study of what goes on in the classroom.
What does the effective teacher do that makes the most difference and what other factors might be relevant? A few decades ago, the simplest received explanation was that teachers who were content experts were most likely to do the best job. Few now believe that because the evidence doesn’t support it. That doesn’t mean that content knowledge is unimportant, just that it isn’t enough. Knowledge of superior teaching instruction is vital and that is not simply a matter of more experience. Cooperation between teachers is also very important.
A number of essays explore the elements of effective teaching. In the first one, the research of Professor John Hattie is outlined.
January 17th, 2013
The ideas developed about the education debate and the enumeration of the issues which I think are important, were summarised in an informal talk at the Ourimbah campus of the University of Newcastle in August 2012 arranged by the NSW Chapter of the Independent Scholars Association of Australia (ISAA).
Much of the problem arises from the focus on schools, which is where in fact students spend a relatively small amount of time, and ignores the time when greatest changes in brain architecture and cognition take place which is early childhood, and the principal influences which determine the quality of that development most of which relate to relative socioeconomic status. It is for these reasons that the principal indicator of student educational achievement is the socioeconomic status of the parents.
Continue to the Ourimbah talk.
Two essays which have appeared in recent months deserve special attention. One is by Carmen Lawrence, former Premier of Western Australia, Minister in the Australian Government and a member of the panel on Education reform chaired by David Gonski.
‘Mind the Gap: Why the rising inequality of our schools is dangerous’ by Carmen Lawrence appeared in The Monthly for July 2012
The other is by the distinguished American educational researcher Professor David Berliner; this essay really brings together some of the most important issues concerning the relationship between educational achievement and inequality in the United States, a topic on which Berliner has written over the last couple of decades. The essay is ‘Effects of Inequality and Poverty vs. Teachers and Schooling on America’s Youth’ and appears in Schools Matter for October 17 2012.
The introduction to Berliner’s essay says,
“The real education experts, academics who study and research education, teach at universities and colleges and are teachers themselves, produce volumes of peer reviewed articles, write books and give lectures to share their findings, ideas and solutions to improve education. The problem is those who control the purse strings in state education departments, government and at the U.S. Department of Education in Washington, are held hostage by corporate interests who have hijacked our children’s pedagogy. With the new Common Core Standards adopted in more than 46 states, testing every kid, in every subject, and mining the data will only exacerbate the dysfunction and lead to the inevitable revolt we are already seeing across the country. Most parents, students and teachers living through this economic depression see scarce resources further dried up and spent on more testing and more data. Austerity in the poorest and neediest schools districts has exposed the harsh reality of three decades of failed education policy that ignores inequality and poverty.”
It is appropriate to mention another event. That is because of the influence of the media: yet again Australian media failed to take advantage of the visit to Australia by distinguished researchers, as it did a couple of years ago when the University of Melbourne hosted a major conference on Curriculum.
The website of the American Association for Educational Research, perhaps the leading education research organisation in the world, featured the following report.
“The World Education Research Association (WERA) held its annual Focal Meeting in conjunction with the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE) and the Asia-Pacific Education Research Association (APERA) in Sydney, Australia. AERA leaders, including President William Tierney; Past Presidents Arnetha Ball, David Berliner, Eva Baker, and Carol Lee; and Executive Director Felice Levine, were participants at the AARE/APERA/WERA conference, held on December 2–6 at the University of Sydney.
“The AARE/APERA/WERA international conference included more than 1,200 paper presentations and symposia, with keynote addresses by AERA Past Presidents Berliner and Ball. In addition, there were twelve outstanding symposia designated as “invited symposia,” including an AERA guest symposium at which President Tierney spoke passionately about academic freedom. There were also two WERA invited symposia; one of them, entitled “Culture, Poverty, and Opportunity to Learn: International Cases of the Complexities of Addressing Race, Ethnicity, and Class in Education,” featured AERA Past President Lee as one of three presenters.”
The above info is from AERA Highlights 10 January 2013. Further information is at http://aare-apera2012.com.au/files/AARE-APERA-2012-handbook.pdf and numerous other sites.
So far as I can determine no Australian media featured any mention of this conference or any interview with the distinguished delegates. So much for media reporting of education, media which is often quite prepared to seize on the latest international tests to criticise Australian education without paying any attention to the dynamics or principal reasons for achievement, quite apart from misrepresenting the performance of Australian students by selective and inappropriate use of statistics, as Professor Alan Reid pointed out in ‘A dumbed down debate, but those tests still hold some lessons’ (Sydney Morning Herald, December 19, 2012).
December 22nd, 2012
In early December ABC RN’s fabulous program “All in the Mind”, now presented by Lynne Malcolm, broadcast an interview with James Doty, Professor of Neurosurgery, Founder and Director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University.
The program was entitled ‘The Science of Compassion’.
It is one of the most outstanding programs I have heard in the last 10 years! It has relevance to leadership and human affairs generally. It undermines, as much as any statement I know, the basis of affairs at this time, grounded in neoclassical (or market) economics advocated by the likes of von Hayek and adopted with relish by the more powerful so forming the philosophy fundamental to such major issues as education and health.
I have extracted below a few sentences from the transcript of the program.
The last paragraph of this transcript summarises the astonishing inequality in the United States at this time as depicted by The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson & Kate Pickett (Allen Lane, London, 2009) and as elaborated for the United States by Timothy Noah in The Great Divergence (Bloomsberry Press, New York, 2012). Noah demonstrates that the vast majority of the factors contributing to the ‘Great Divergence’ have been driven by the super rich, not least through their influence on the US Congress and successive administrations.
James Doty emerged from a disadvantaged background in the United States to become a neurosurgeon, an entrepreneur and a philanthropist—only to let his fortune go and dedicate his professional life to the scientific study of compassion and altruism.
Here is the transcript.
Compassion is being at the same level, looking them in the eye and saying we’re the same and that defines your humanity—that is true compassion…
… I think compassion in business or compassionate leadership can have a profound effect on an organisation in terms of how employees respond to stress, create environments to decrease their stress. The fact of the matter is we all have to work, pretty much, but nobody wants to work in an environment that they don’t feel connected to. But it takes enlightened leadership to create an environment where you’re passionate about being there.
When you remove a person’s dignity, when you give them the sense that they have no value, well what do you expect? They’ll engage in negative behaviours, because if you’re nothing you feel your nothing, and in fact you’re in so much pain you want to get rid of the pain, and so you turn to drugs, you turn to alcohol, if you’re not having a living wage, if every day you wake up it’s one of despair, geez, I’m shocked that people commit suicide, I’m shocked that they do these horrible acts against society. This is easily explainable. Look, in the United States per population and compared to other industrialised countries, we have an epidemic of people in jail. The vast majority of people who are in jail are not because they’re bad people. Most of the people in jail are there because they have not been given love and kindness in their lives. It’s because the simple act of caring for another has not been available to them because of the way we have created our society in the United States.
You know, you look at Nordic countries, other societies that are more socialised, they create a safety net for their community where people are looked at as, you know, we’re all in this community together, where we have a responsibility to the most vulnerable. Those are the most successful societies. You know, this ridiculous concept in America of this rugged individualism and this Ayn Rand attitude, it is pathalogic, it will create despair, it will ruin lives, as it has done.
And as we get more disparity between the rich and the poor, you will see the further fragmentation of society. It is only until we reach out and embrace every human being as an important part of our society that our country is going to survive—and I think our world is going to survive.
April 7th, 2012
Substantial heat is generated in Australia about child care and parental leave. Whilst there are economic issues involved in respect of the parents, the much more important aspects concern the young child and the future economic and social impact, let alone the impact on the individual. For the most part those issues are being ignored in the debate being held over the last few years in Australia. The situation in the US and in Britain in respect of early childhood and parental leave contrasts with that in much of continental Europe including Scandinavian countries and the Netherlands and in some Asian countries including Singapore where childcare is funded by governments or at least heavily subsidised where parents are unable to afford it.
Australia is lagging in this matter as in many others. The consequences are future significant economic impacts in unemployment and social dislocation. Funding untrained persons to mind the young children of parents enjoying more than reasonably satisfactory economic and social conditions, as is advocated by some politicians, completely ignores all the evidence and is a waste of taxpayers money! Failure to invest in early childhood leads to increased costs later on either in educational expenses or in countering antisocial behaviour, it leads in many families to poorer educational outcomes and a diminished life not least because of the economic conditions of the parents relating to excessively demanding working conditions often for both parents or no employment at all. The experiences of young girls growing up in those circumstances is visited on the young children they have in adult life. The experiences of young boys influences their passage into adolescence and adulthood.
Early childhood intervention is not child minding but an investment in the future more important than almost any other intervention in education. It must involve qualified early childhood educators. Think of parental leave and the costs of good support in early life, the experiences of urban settings of high rise apartments and the lives of “minority” families which are portrayed time and again in police dramas brought right into our living rooms on our TV screens. Numerous studies demonstrate just how significant the physical, social and economic environments portrayed in these dramas are in producing the tragedies which perpetuate poverty and violence.
Around 50 per cent of the educational achievement of children at school is contributed by what the child brings to school, as Professor John Hattie’s meta-analyses have shown and a substantial part of their subsequent achievement involves the relationships established in the early years of the child’s life.
Study after study in many countries shows extraordinary gains for investment in early child care as well as the critical importance to the child in later life of the relationships developed in the first few years. Yet firm meaningful policies are not put in place in countries such as the US. This would be considered astonishing until one realises that most of those involved in approving the necessary legislation are not directly affected by such policies. They more often find it useful politically to exhort parents to exercise their parental responsibility!
The investment we make in very young children is the most important investment we make!
Continue to the essays Early Childhood: A World of Relationships, Early Childhood: The Nature of Early Experiences and Early Childhood: Critical Relationships with the Mother
Continue to Education: Life’s Choices – Introductory Background
April 2nd, 2012
There seem to be two worlds in which education reform, along with everything else, proceeds. In one a purely statistical and theoretical view of economics prevails. In the other sociology, a view informed by studies of the social interaction of people. To move from the former view to the latter is to enter through a kind of ‘green door’ from a society dominated by individual utility maximisation to one more concerned with social value and which recognises the sometimes irrational behaviour of people. One is based entirely in theory and has a utility related to its alleged predictability derived from sophisticated mathematics, a predictability which in most cases is at best difficult to test. The other is supported by extensive research on what people value and what they do not and how they actually behave in relation to their stated values.
These extracts from the essay on economics critique neoclassical economics and its application to education policy. Neoclassical economics and neoliberalism which is derived from it has gained substantial influence over the last 50 years. In that time economic growth in many countries has been accompanied by a number of important features. These include the application of notions about competition, choice and accountability to policies on schools and universities as well as early childhood. The last several decades have also seen increasing disparities in wealth within populations accompanied by “offshoring’ of many jobs in order to decrease costs. In several countries costs of education, of schools and of universities, have increased also. In the view of a number of economists this has led to a decline in the standards of education.
The focus on economics as if it is the basis of human society has been criticised by a number of scholars and writers and the failure of neoclassical economic theory and practice seen in severe economic turbulence has led leaders of a number of nations to question its appropriateness. In other cases the deregulation advocated by the proponents of neoclassical economics have led to profound fluctuations in national and international economies with “speculative bubbles” being enhanced by use of complicated mathematical algorithms and complex financial instruments as well as artificially low interest rates and excessive lending and borrowing at individual, corporate, government and national levels.
These notes on economics accompany essays on community and inequality. It needs to be kept in mind that the socio-economic and educational levels of parents are the most accurate predictors of children’s educational achievement. This is not because of some link with intelligence but with the profound differences in opportunities which are provided to those at higher economic and social levels. The differences which these opportunities make are evident in the first year to 18 months.
Continue to Education – Introductory Background
Continue to A Word on Economics, Neoclassical Economics : a Failure of Theory or a Theoretical Failure? and An Alternative View: Behavioural Economics