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Welcome to Des Griffin.com

Find out about museums and what's happening in the museum world, about leadership, management and governance of museums, including the management of change, the contribution of museums to learning, contribution to public issues such as the natural environment, cultural diversity and relations with indigenous peoples.

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.

What's New

Our Common Future

August 9th, 2017

I have added to the pages of this site the text of an introduction which I gave by invitation to a forum on Museum Futures held by Museums Australia 9 years ago.

I do so because of my increasing despair over what is happening in cultural policy and indeed policy more generally in Australia at this time, August 2017. The seeming failure to meaningfully address so many issues from climate change and energy policy to marriage equality, from recognition of the primacy of Indigenous Peoples in their quest to be heard and achieve genuine self-determination, as set out in “The Statement from the Heart” issued after the meetings in Uluru at the end of May, the failure to address issues of inequality, homelessness as well as health and education and so much more, is of the greatest concern.

On ABC RN Breakfast 10 August 2017, Dr Anne Summers spoke of her upcoming Kenneth Myer address at the National Library of Australia.

Dr Summers, journalist and feminist urges “a full reboot” of Australia in the 21st century.

She will argue Australia is no longer equipped to deal with the challenges of the future: “our tendency to elect governments based on slogans rather than policies has left us desperately in need of economic, social, emotional and even spiritual reconstruction.”

In respect of museums the approach has in many cases been worse than dismal, driven by a seeming passion for market economics and small government, policies which have manifestly failed. At the National level, museums and libraries have had years of efficiency dividends applied which have downsized staff and limited programs and most especially what should be a major focus on creativity and innovation. In New South Wales museums policy means trying to move to the inner western suburb of Parramatta a major institution, the Powerhouse Museum, from its site in Ultimo near Darling Harbour, which features the National Maritime Museum and just nearby the ever expanding University of Technology (UTS).

The Executive of the Council of Museums Australia, the organisation established in 1993 to represent museums and museum people, sought in the last couple of years to address ongoing concerns about the level of representation of both arts museums and other museums by changing its name to MuseumsGalleries Australia. Objections to the lack of consultation on the proposal led to the abandonment at the annual meetings in May 2017 in Brisbane, of a constitutional change to give effect to the name change.

The way museum policy, and cultural policy generally, in Australia is being developed needs, as Anne Summers has said, a reboot.

Addressing the future is never just a matter of changing a few words or titles: that is as useful as reorganising the structure and getting a new logo. Nor is it simply a matter of satisfying those who seem to have most influence by “papering over” genuine concerns which significantly affect the way people live their lives by drawing upon a few well-known phrases appealing to fear of change, fear of difference, fear of uncertainty and fear of ideas.

A future of security, of peace, based on tolerance and respect and the opportunity for all to achieve their potential, set out so well by Nobel prizewinning economist Amartya Sen and many others, is being sidelined by nothing more than a wish by those with power and influence to enrich themselves. It represents a massive failure of accountability.

The 2009 report of the UN Development Program pointed to the fact that major advances in health and education had come not from increasing wealth but from the cross-border transfer of ideas. Wealth in not unimportant – though how it is defined and measured is a matter of great importance – but it is not enough. In Australia at this time, the importance of ideas is subservient to the continued pursuit of failed dogma.

Summers decries the deployment of slogans by our political leaders. Amongst the most dangerous is the accusation that a strong leader does not change his mind!

Our Common Future is at risk.

Note: The frequently quoted statement about changing one’s mind when the facts change is usually attributed to John Maynard Keynes. The evidence seems to be that it was actually 1970 Nobel prizewinner Paul Samuelson.

 

 

Education Reform is going Where?

January 21st, 2017

As has been pointed out in several earlier posts and essays on this website, education policy in the last 40 or so years, in a number of western countries though not to the same extent in much of Europe and Asia, has increasingly focused on the school years, emphasised parent choice as to the school the child attends, demands accountability in the form of standardised tests on a few core subjects, tends, in a few countries, to favour independent schools rather than public or government schools and seeks to hold teachers to account for the achievement of the students.

The high quality research on the other hand reveals early childhood as critical in terms of brain development and cognitive gain and recognises socioeconomic status of the family to play a major role in the early years which follows through to later experience. The reason is to be found in the very different advantage enjoyed by high socio-economic level families, the greater variety of experiences and much higher level of support of the growing child. Just like health, as Boyer lecturer Michael Marmot so lucidly explains.

As to school, substantial research shows that, by controlling for socioeconomic background, independent schools return no greater student performance than do public schools. It is the value added and the fact that school is by no means the only influence: there are also peers and out of school informal learning experiences. Teacher competence is vital, greatest successes being achieved when entry standards for teachers are high, teaching is recognised as important, teachers trusted and school leadership focuses on supporting the role of teachers in learning and encourages cooperation, preferably among schools, not just within each one.

It is not schools that make the difference but teachers. Competition among schools hinders cooperation which New Zealand found in its 1990 reforms. And parents don’t choose schools only on the basis of academic performance: the background of other students enrolled, something more amenable to parental investigation than learning achievement relative to that at other schools, may be very important. So what is the point?

In a number of countries debate focuses nearly exclusively on the release of results from standardised tests and media commentary attends hardly at all to agreed understandings from research as to what makes a difference: there is an obsession with school average scores and rank, and in international tests with country rank and trend across test years of the individual country. In the US, the UK and Australia this is especially so.

Important results of tests were released in the last two months of 2016 and debate followed the usual course. But extremely important research and commentary also appeared: the research was not of much interest to media or politicians in Australia. Social determinants of education were not exactly ignored in Australia but the strong position of non-government schools achieved very much as a result of increased funding by the Australian government from the time of the Howard government made consideration of inequality much less of an issue than it should be: some commentators ignored or denied the importance of such issues.

Inequality was a major feature of the very important report by the Panel chaired by David Gonski: the adoption of some of the recommendations led to legislation envisaging increased funding to address school need, something also addressed 40 years earlier by the Whitlam government. The government of Tony Abbott and Malcolm Turnbull refuse to recognise the importance of this and continually talk of substantially increased expenditure on schools that their government has provided, an increase which is illusory, and of course, the importance of quality teaching. Meaning what, exactly?

The latest national tests administered as part of the NAPLAN program in December produced the usual flurry. The fact is the program’s value is suspect and there is no evidence it has contributed to improved ahcviement, a point made already! Disability of various kinds, remoteness and indigeneity are revealed as negative contributors. One does not need standardised tests to reveal that.

Tests are summative and not accompanied by any real analysis of contributory factors. Minister Simon Birmingham, like his predecessor Christopher Pyne, intends to bring the tests on line and favours introducing the test to an even earlier school year than at present. Some people ridiculously obsessed with accountability in the name of finding out which students need special help, as if teachers do not know that already, want tests introduced to preschool kids. Creativity anyone? Is play irrelevant? Important research on formative evaluation, to which student self-assessment makes a vital contribution, is ignored in the government’s approach.

Some of the commentary in the context of the NAPLAN talkfest addressed the need to trust teachers and others asserted the Minister was wrong in his intention to not fund the reforms resulting from the Gonski Panel. Presumably the Coalition would have agreed. So it was interesting to find that Minister Birmingham raised the fact that a number of schools – specifically a large number of independent ones – were overfunded and presumably should lose money through redistribution. Researchers were able to identify the overfunding and its location. Next?

It is hard to go past the most recent claims by Senator Simon Birmingham’s recent claims about funding and achievement as an indication of the way in which the government continues to distort claims about school education. Birmingham continually claims huge increases in funding by government and points to poor results from the funding.

A recent “Education Brief” from Trevor Cobbold of Save Our Schools addresses the claim by the Federal Education Minister, Simon Birmingham, that a 50 per cent increase in Federal funding of schools since 2003 failed to improve student achievement is highly misleading in several ways. Cobbold’s research “Birmingham is Wrong Again on School Funding and Outcomes” of Sunday January 22, 2017 shows that “the increase in total government funding (from Commonwealth and state/territory sources) per student, adjusted for inflation, for the nine years from 2004-05 to 2013-14 was only 4.5 per cent”. Most of the increase in total funding per student favoured private schools (9.8 per cent) who enrol only a small proportion of disadvantaged students; for public schools it was only 3.3 per cent.”

Cobbold also pointed out that Minister Birmingham ignored “significant improvements in Year 12 outcomes that are in sharp contrast to the PISA results. The average retention rate to Year 12, the Year 12 completion rate, the proportion of students achieving an ATAR score of 50 or more, and the proportion of young adults with Year 12 or equivalent vocational qualification have all increased significantly over the past 10-15 years”.

Last, Cobbold again pointed out that the Minister ignored the many academic studies, “including five in the past year”, which showed that increased funding does improve school outcomes, especially for students from disadvantaged backgrounds.

The shortfalls of NAPLAN are to a large extent offset in the OECD program PISA (Program for International Student Assessment) because its reports are not just lists of scores but includes substantial analysis of contributory factors, a fact generally ignored in commentary. PISA results largely confirm and amplify other research so when some in the US particularly seek to downplay the results because of behaviours in some countries such as intense after school coaching or because, non-random sampling to game the system – really? – it isn’t much of a contribution. Much of the analysis is ignored in a lot of the commentary though not by researchers, or the conclusions even contradicted.

Years ago, a leader of the ALP Opposition proposed that independent schools had too much money and should reallocate some of it to government schools. He was roundly condemned. Prime Minister Julia Gillard tried to avoid this outcome by having as one of the terms of reference for the Gonski Inquiry, which was to focus on school funding only, that no school would lose funds as a result of any reforms. The renewed debate forgot that small point and didn’t got to the fact that the Gillard Government in legislating recommendations from the Gonski Panel did not provide for an independent body to establish and monitor school need. Now the issue has resurfaced. Is inequality being kept to the fore? Problems do exist with the measure of socioeconomic background of the students at each school and that is not being addressed either.

There is a view that support for almost any approach to school education can be found in the PISA results; moreover, last year’s results are not the product of last year’s teaching but of the previous 10 years, based probably on policy formulated 10 years before that.

Continue to The School Education Bunfight or how Populism, Ideology and Political Cowardice distorts Policy

Two major contributions appeared but received not much attention. Both are among the most important of recent years. Distinguished researcher John Hattie of the Melbourne Graduate School of Education presented a special lecture reviewing the current situation, emphasising many of the most important features of successful schooling and teaching and learning and criticising some of the abject failures of the present system. Hattie’s research involves substantial meta-analysis. He called for a rebooting of school education and also lamented the presently inadequate attention to teacher training, explained the importance of classroom feedback to the teacher and the tragic neglect of early childhood.

A major study at the Mitchell Institute’s Centre for International Research on Education Systems by Professor Stephen Lamb and colleagues gathered data from many different sources to review educational opportunity, who succeeds and who misses out at important stages of life from early childhood through to the early years of adulthood after emergence from the formal education system. Very important commentary is contributed about the factors contributing to why some win and others loose.

Continue to the associated essay Educational Opportunity and Education Reform

One of the major areas of real concern is the achievement level in science and mathematics and related subjects. Substantial research in this area elucidates what is likely to lead to superior achievement through genuine engagement of students, schools working with students and portrayal of the scientific enterprise as conducted by real people struggling to understand, not a litany of facts. There are many examples of exciting success though they don’t necessarily end up on the front pages or Minister’s speeches, even when they are Prime Minister’s prizes. A recent post by Professor Russell Tytler of Deakin University merits attention.

Continue to Improving Education in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)

Jobs and Growth are being Undermined by Corporate Behaviour: the Great Tax Hoax

December 29th, 2016

The Coalition government in Australia and the policy of the incoming President of the US Donald Trump propose substantial decreases in corporate tax rates and assert this will stimulate growth and jobs.

However, consideration of past decreases in tax rates reveals the recent behaviour of corporations and their executives and boards as an increasing trend to devote retained earnings to share buy backs and dividend distribution. Thus additional revenue flowing from further tax breaks is likely to contribute to further enrichment of the already super rich including many at the helm of large corporations, especially in the financial sector. Few companies are paying the marginal tax rate and many are avoiding tax altogether.

The campaigns by business to downsize government, reduce wage growth, limit union influence and reduce regulation have been self-defeating. The behaviour of the super-rich is the principal driver of the significant increase in inequality over the last 40 or so years, especially the Global Financial Crisis. This has led to a stalling of demand. In Australia, substantial investment has been directed to property, now a vehicle for financial enrichment at the expense of those wishing to find somewhere to live.

It is vitally important to recall that rising prosperity benefiting the population generally does not depend simply on economic growth: unending growth is a concept believed in only by the naive and many economists. The United Nations Development Program Report for 2009, Real Wealth of Nations: Pathways to Human Development points out that improvements around the world in education and health have been due principally to cross border transfer of ideas: there is little if any correlation with economic growth! Growth in incomes is not unimportant but it is not the main reason for improved prosperity.

In other words we can learn a great deal from other countries and other domains: seeking out those lessons is vitally important. Most particularly the notion that for any individual country the growth of population is critical is nonsense. Indeed, countries where the birth rate has slowed are generally more prosperous and a significant influence on that is education of women.

Governments have a fundamentally critical role in both encouraging transfer of ideas, in the provision of education for women and in encouraging responsible and sustainable population policy. Many developed economies lack any coherent population policy.

In Australia weakening of institutions, increasing inequality, primitive approaches to debt, especially for infrastructure development and to deficit budgeting, ongoing downsizing of government along with poor investment in education, health and science and a lack of understanding of innovation and what drives it is putting Australia’s future at risk. Isolation from the ideas emerging in other countries is a major feature of public policy!

Continue to Managerial Firms and Rentiers: How Corporate Behaviour is driving Inequality

A postscript to the associated essay notes the recently published book on Neoliberalism by George Monbiot  and also deals with the behaviour of banks and the involvement of US administration officials in failing to prosecute bank executives for their behaviour which led to the Global Financial Crisis.

Related post:

Government Policy and the Economic Environment at the turn of the Year, December 2016: Health, Education and Corporations

A postscript to the associated essay “Managerial Firms and Rentiers” notes the recently published book on Neoliberalism by George Monbiot  and also deals with the behaviour of banks and the involvement of US administration officials in failing to prosecute bank executives for their behaviour which led to the Global Financial Crisis.

ICOM Australia Award 2016

July 27th, 2016

I thought it would be appropriate to place on the site the details of the ICOM Australia Individual Award “recognising sustained international achievement over a long period” which I received at the dinner at the Auckland War Memorial Museum for the Museums Australasia Conference in Auckland New Zealand 17 May this year, 2016.

Details have been published in the the ICOM Australia newsletter, Museums Australia Magazine 24(4), Winter 2016 (“ICOM Australia’s International Awards 2016” by Nancy Ladas) and Museum Matters for July 2016 published by Museums Australia New South Wales.

It was a great honour to receive the Award, presented by Dr Robin Hirst, Museum Victoria and past Chair of ICOM Australia

I was especially pleased that following the award to me, the National Museum of Australia was presented with the ICOM Australia Institutional Award for the exhibitions, Indigenous Australia: Enduring Civilisation, shown at the British Museum in 2015 and Encounters: Revealing Stories of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Objects from the British Museum, shown at the NMA in Canberra over the Summer of 2015-2016. That award was accepted by Museum Director Mathew Trinca and colleagues.

The link is to the citation and my response.

My response draws on the ideas already presented on this website, not least in the paper presented to the conference for the late Stephen Weil.

The Myth of School Choice and the Distortion of Education Policy

April 24th, 2016

 

At the Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in March Education Director for the OECD Andreas Schleicher criticised the Australian education system for falling behind global standards. He pointed to the very significant drop in the results of students at the top of the PISA test rankings in the past year. He said “[Australia] more or less defines teachers by the number of hours that [they] teach in front of students. That is part of the problem. We treat teachers as interchangeable widgets on the frontline – they are just there to implement prefabricated knowledge.” Schleicher said many countries were struggling to keep the best teachers in the profession because of curriculums that restrict creativity.

The OECD through its PISA program which explores literacy in 15 year olds in writing, math and science every three years has been criticised very heavily in some countries as driving the education agenda. Countries determine their own policies but unfortunately the ideology which underlies PISA – standardised testing, along with performance pay and independent schooling – has been adopted too vigorously by some countries. The important findings about effective school education policies and practices brought out in the comprehensive reports of PISA and Education at a Glance are ignored or even deliberately misinterpreted.

___________

In Australia parents are moving their kids in ever larger numbers to schools they perceive to be better based mainly on scores in standardised tests – NAPLAN – published on the MySchool website. What is happening is a drift of students from advantaged backgrounds away from public schools, which generally have large numbers of students from disadvantaged backgrounds, to independent schools. As a result learning gaps between children from different backgrounds are widening. Parents are responding to test scores and to other factors. That should have been anticipated by those deciding to privilege standardised testing and support extra funding for independent schools.

The Myth of School Choice: Government support for Independent Schools and Standardised Tests traverses the recent report from the Grattan Institute which illuminates important outcomes of the Howard Government’s support of independent schools and the reactions of parents to that. The focus on NAPLAN has problems drawn out in a report by Chris Bonner and Bernie Shepherd for the Centre for Policy Development and a study by David Zyngier of Monash University. That independent schools do not contribute to better educational achievement when socioeconomic background is taken into account is shown by a sophisticated report by researchers from the University of Queensland and colleagues. As it has been by many previous analyses!

Study after study has shown no significant educational gain by the much better resourced independent schools. The extra funds would have been better spent supporting those children with greatest needs, those from disadvantaged backgrounds having trouble with the learning program.

The Turnbull Coalition Government, like the Abbott Government before it, has refused to fund the last two years of the National Plan for School Improvement framed in response to the Gonski Panel’s recommendations: it maintains there are insufficient funds. However, there is substantial evidence to the effect that funds are available by addressing the substantial tax expenditures – tax concessions – introduced in recent years; Australia is a relatively low tax country and a major contribution to debt is private debt funding purchase of houses and apartments.

The response by the Turnbull Government to the States’ refusal to consider operating their own income tax systems has left unresolved the funding of schools (and hospitals) through agreements between the former government and the states, with the Prime Minister maintaining that the states have no grounds on which to ask the Commonwealth to raise taxes and claiming the previous agreements were made in “barely credible circumstances”. The Myth of School Choice: the Economics of Independent Schools and Australian Government Policy shows just how wrong this is and how billions of taxpayer funds have been wasted. A report by Lyndsay Connors and Jim McMorrow and detailed analysis by Trevor Cobbold illuminate the situation.

Proposals to have the Commonwealth fund independent schools and the States fund public schools were strongly criticised and are not supported by the Government’s own Green Paper on the Future of the Federation. In Victoria a review by former Premier Steve Bracks recommends policies reinforcing the Gonski reforms.

Despite adoption of policies in the US and UK based mainly on neoclassical economics which privilege private sector participation in generating public goods like education, favour competition and choice and deploy financial incentives to drive change, there are examples in those countries, as in Australia, of exciting outcomes from schools which do address the main features of effective learning in schools.

The Myth of School Choice: Genuine improvement happens when everyone collaborates for the benefit of the children summarises an important review by education historian Diane Ravitch of two very interesting books on schools in the United States.  It isn’t simply quality teachers or the administrative independence of school principals and it certainly isn’t standardised testing which make the difference! Kristina Rizga, author of Mission High: One School, How Experts Tried to Fail It, and the Students and Teachers Who Made It Triumph, about a high school in San Francisco with an enrolment of students from a wide cultural diversity, many from disadvantaged backgrounds, points out, “too many politicians, powerful bureaucrats, management and business experts, economists, and philanthropists are making decisions about the best solutions for schools. In short, the people in charge don’t know nearly as much about schooling as the students and teachers they are trying to “fix.””

Despite everything, at Mission High in San Francisco great gains were made by students through the intense enthusiasm of their teachers.

Rizga says, “What matters in quality education – critical thinking, intrinsic motivation, resilience, self-management, resourcefulness, and relationship skills – exist in realms that can’t be easily measured by statistical measures and computer algorithms, but can be detected by teachers using human judgment. America’s business-inspired obsession with prioritizing “metrics” in a complex world that deals with the development of individual minds has become the primary cause of mediocrity in American schools.

Diane Ravitch points out “grand ideas cannot be imposed on people without their assent. Money and power are not sufficient to improve schools. Genuine improvement happens when students, teachers, principals, parents, and the local community collaborate for the benefit of the children.”

And education does not by itself fix poverty.