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Archive for the 'Teaching' Category

Effective Teaching

Saturday, 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.


Economics and Educational Opportunity

Monday, 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 EconomicsNeoclassical Economics : a Failure of Theory or a Theoretical Failure? and An Alternative View: Behavioural Economics


Education: Life’s Choices

Sunday, April 1st, 2012


This is an entirely new section of the website intended to contain extracts from a forthcoming publication of essays on education in almost all of its manifestations and relationships. The following summarises some of the main propositions and conclusions of the essays and outlines the content and scope of the essays.

The Book and the Essays

The set of essays in the upcoming publication will deal with education from early childhood to lifelong learning beyond and outside of school. The proposition is that achieving educational gains, which are important both individually and at the community and national level, depends on special attention to early childhood, to the nature of the school experience, the individual potential of students recognising that all are capable of success but that special attention is needed to those having difficulty achieving the required standard.

The principal thesis of the collection of essays is that many different things are connected. Attention to early childhood is essential: successful emergence from those early years is influenced by the social and economic circumstances of the family and also by the experiences of the mother when she was young. The health of the child is also influenced by the social and economic circumstances of the family and that in turn influences brain and cognitive development. The economic circumstances of the family are determined very much by the employment situation of the parents. High levels of unemployment likely lead to domestic problems which lead to poor health which reduces the likelihood of successful cognitive development. Economic and social conditions continue to influence the child’s educational development through school and  beyond.

Of the greatest importance is the fact that early childhood intervention has greatest impact on low socio-economic families: support for preschool and for parental leave is an employment issue – the usual focus of the debate – but it is much more importantly an educational  issue. The evidence is that especially in the case of low socio-economic families, simply having very young children minded by a friend or relative will not advantage the child’s cognitive development. A full fifty percent of the child’s achievement at school is determined by what the child brings to the school experience. If that has been poor it is far less likely that any subsequent intervention will overcome the deficit. Unless substantial additional resources are allocated!

At school and beyond successful learning comes from successful teaching which is enhanced by leadership at the principal level and other senior levels, encouragement of cooperation amongst teachers, and students, and setting of high standards of instruction and student achievement. It also requires superior recruitment, appropriate remuneration and significant trust.

The principal gain of education must be seen as advancing human development at the individual level, with gains which flow to the community broadly and secondarily to the economy. Primary emphasis on matters such as economic indicators and economic motivations and purposes are a break on achievement in the longer term.

It is intended that a very broad range of issues which affect educational outcomes be traversed, ranging from economics and community issues through early childhood to the nature of superior teaching and work issues concerning teachers such as pay and performance and school leadership, student issues including curriculum, standardised testing and the importance of creativity and its encouragement, to school issues including the debate about public as opposed to private and independent schools. Education outside and beyond school are also dealt with.

The recent experience of education reform in Australia, the UK and the USA and internationally generally as revealed by numerous international studies, especially the Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) will be dealt with.

Whilst the 12 or so essays focus principally on Australia the context is international. The essays draw extensively on research papers and documents, media articles and books.

Conclusions are drawn as to what features are revealed by the experiences of various countries and the huge number of studies of education and the impact on educational outcomes of social and economic issues and government policies.

In the best education systems achievement is considered to be advanced by assuming that all students are capable of achieving success, that recruitment of teachers needs special attention, that teachers should be trusted to deliver professionally and that adequate time for training and development is essential. And so on. This view does not pay attention to beliefs in neoliberalism but emphasises cooperation and especially attention to those having difficulty in achieving their potential. Early childhood development is recognised as essential to later educational achievement.

As to the research in education it is often asserted that there are many significant uncertainties even on such fundamental issues as to what constitutes effective teaching! Forgotten is the fact that there is no area of human endeavour in which knowledge is complete, let alone perfect. However, to assert that knowledge and understanding of the most fundamental aspects of education are lacking is nonsense! Knowledge and understandings available now are more than sufficient to make the most critical decisions to support superior learning outcomes.

For instance, despite high quality research by many different people and groups that show that merit pay does not lead to improved performance of teachers and therefore higher achievement of students (or even to higher performance of other professionals and very probably all persons in organisations, nonprofit and commercial alike), there are those who continue to refer to economic studies (which anyway are at the very best inconclusive) and for the most part discount other research which does not support the proposition they favour. That in such a contentious area any introduction of merit pay would be not only opposed but understandably disputed as to its merits leading to unproductive conflict seems to be ignored.

There are similar situations with issues such as standardised testing, the curriculum, school leadership, early childhood intervention, university teaching and organisation and so on. In the US research by educators funded by the Federal Government was required to conform to the same level of rigour as research in the pharmaceutical industry which, to anyone familiar with the area, is a nonsense!

The essays in this section are extracts. I hope they give the flavour of what is intended.

Continue to the Introduction


A Future Australia?

Thursday, December 11th, 2008

Museum people, I hope, are taking careful note of the announcements, assertions and debate of the last three weeks in Australia about education policy and funding, the assertions that our public education sytem is a disgrace, that what we need is greater accountability, that the latest international tests are a wake up call for Australian educators and that Australia is failing in the standards of its child care institutions. Because all of this has implications for what museums will do in the next few years.

Fourteen months ago (on 19 September 2007) I gave an invited talk to a small audience at the South Bank Campus of Griffith University’s College of the Arts as part of their Lunch Box talks. As I am writing an essay on education and schooling at the present time I thought it might be time to publish the text of that talk.

The three weeks from the last week of November through mid December have been times of substantial developments in education and schooling in Australia. “Experts” told us again that if schools are to improve, and they must, then we need a culture of performance and accountability. In his fourth Boyer lecture, expatriate Australian Rupert Murdoch reminded us that “The unvarnished truth is that in countries such as Australia, Britain, and particularly the United States, our public education systems are a disgrace. Despite spending more and more money, our children seem to be learning less and less””especially for those who are most vulnerable in our society.” I doubt the veracity of Mr Murdoch’s assertions as they relate to Australia.

New York Schools Chancellor Joel Klein, brought to Australia by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Education Julia Gillard, told us of the great successes of his program to replace a culture of excuse to a culture of performance. Careful consisderation of the time since Mr Klein has been Chancellor have led some to claim that there have been anything but advances in student achievement in New York.

At the end of the week, it was announced that very substantial funds were to be granted by the Commonwealth to education and schooling through the Council of the Heads of Government (COAG) for some extremely important strategies.

This month (December) we have seen arguments in the Australian Parliament about the provision of funds to Independent schools and whether that funding should be tied to a national curriculum. On December 9 the results of TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) for 2007 (tests conducted in 2006 in Australia) were announced and some newspapers pounced on the results to claim they were a wake up call for teachers since the results were not as good as they should be.

On December 11 a UNICEF sponsored study found serious problems in the early childhood sector in many countries, especially Australia and England. As always the Sydney Morning Herald‘s Adele Horin had a very good article about the issue. Much of the consideration of this issue will unbdoubtedly be placed in the context of the ongoing consideration of the collapse or the ABC Learning Centres and child minding which is doubtfully where it should be placed.

And on December 12 Prime Minister Rudd announced substantial funds for infrastructure including funds for training and development in TAFE institutions .

In my view the vitally important issue of ensuring the highest quality of teachers, through recruitment, training, mentoring, appropriate pay and conditions, gets submerged in pointless arguments about accountability and league tables for schools, accusations that public schools are failing and so on. That is also the view of experts in the field!

Similarly, the vitally important issue of early childhood education, especially in respect of children from less well off parts of the community which is where the greatest gains are to be made, get submerged in issues about child minding so working mothers can go to work to make enough money to cover the mortgage and buy the food and the failure so far to put in place a paid maternity (and paternity) leave scheme which equates with that of many advanced economies.

As always with these essays, none of this is irrelevant to museums. Increasingly, early childhood education is recognised by museum people as an area where they can make substantial contributions, as shown by the Queensland Art Gallery and the studies of Barbara Piscitelli and by some other museums including the Australian Museum.

The drive for accountability and testing severely cramps the time of school classes for other activities which give substantial complementary experiences outside the classroom, such as visits to museums: the children are too busy practising for their tests! And the arguments about curriculum can end up constraining the kinds of experiences offered by the museum to visiting school groups through a focus on learning facts ““ the dreaded “˜worksheet’ – rather than experiencing the joy of stimulating experiences when the children are able to be in charge of their own learning, making their own creative connections between things and events previously unconnected in their minds.

In all of this is the influence of certain special interest groups, amongst whom are the “˜economists’. As a friend of mine, a distinguished educator said the other day, “I’m sick of economists running the system, and I’m sick of schools being so filled up with audits of various kinds that there is no space for teachers to inspire kids.”

In my talk, I started by saying “Education is one of the three or four critical issues for all peoples and communities and investment in it leads to increased wellbeing as well as economic growth. It requires investment. Recent economic policies have instead steered us toward an education and work environment more suited to a low wage economy: learning and creativity are being undervalued. The solutions are to be found in recognising the positive outcomes of self determination and encouragement of creativity, not centralised control.” (Reember that this was written in mid 2007!)

By the question “Is there a future for an Educated Australia?” I meant, “do we, or more particularly those with influence and we as those who influence them, recognise that our common future depends on our investing in learning and understanding. And I am not going to argue that we learn certain things rather than others, math and spelling rather than Indonesian or the classics. To a very large extent engaging in educational experiences, no matter the content, leads to a more enriching life.”

I talked about three gains from education:

Continue to “Is there a Future for an Educated Australia“