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Pyne’s Curriculum Mess

Tuesday, February 25th, 2014

The Minister for Education in the Abbott Government, the Hon Christopher Pyne, continued his destruction of the former government’s education policies in early January of this year when he announced a review of the National Curriculum developed over the last five or so years and about to be implemented in all states. The announcement is a further step in the dismantling of the entire education policies of the former Labor Government.

The latest decision is the undermining of the Gonski reforms by allowing that the states need not contribute any increased funding to implement the National Plan for School Improvement. As Trevor Cobbold points out that is fundamentally destructive of the basis of the National Plan. In other words the Coalition by supporting states’ rights has sabotaged the Plan. This is a breach of the commitment given by Mr Abbott before the election and also goes against the policies of the Howard Government.

As Cobbold points out not only did the Howard Government subject state and territory government to conditions for federal funding, but it went so far as to circumvent state and territory government control over their own schools by funding schools directly, subject to conditions.

Predictably, in announcing the curriculum review, Pyne claimed the government had a mandate for the review, justified it by claiming it would be robust and that it should not be a partisan issue. His two reviewers, consultant Dr Kevin Donnelly and Professor of Public Administration at the University of Queensland Ken Wiltshire were immediately identified as well-known opponents of the new curriculum.

There are particular reasons why all this fuss by the Minister about the curriculum is a waste of people’s time and based on no understanding whatsoever of education, learning and schooling.

The curriculum is useful when it forms a strong basis for discussion in the classroom and encourages understanding and further inquiry. And more importantly, if our aim is to have young people emerge from school able to reach their potential and be productive members of the community in the brad sense of that word and able to understand the world around them and interested in the future and in humanity, then we have to recognise that the education process doesn’t start at school but in the earliest years, in the home with parents, carers, other children and amongst a physical and emotional environment which has profound and long lasting influence.

Pyne’s curriculum review has been heavily criticised by academics and education researchers, media commentators and parents and citizens groups as premature at best and unnecessary at worst.

Marilyn Parker in her Daily Telegraph blog branded the exercise a shambles. She quoted reviewer Dr Kevin Donnelly as complaining that every subject had to be taught through a perspective “where new age, 21st century generic skills and competencies undermine academic content”, “the draft civics and citizenship curriculum air brushes Christianity from the nation’s civic life and institutions and adopts a postmodern, subjective definition of citizenship”.

Dr Donnelly has also asserted that, “The history curriculum, in addition to uncritically promoting diversity and difference instead of what binds as a community and a nation, undervalues Western civilisation and the significance of Judeo-Christian values to our institutions and way of life” and the English national curriculum as adopting “an exploded definition of literature, one where classic works from the literary canon jostle for attention along side SMS messages, film posters, graffiti and multi-modal texts”.

Marilyn Parker also made this prescient comment:

“Next will be an attempt to change how teachers teach.

“Kevin claims “One reason why the cultural-left has been so successful in controlling the education system is because the majority of Australia’s professional bodies, subject associations and teacher training academics are hostile to a conservative view of education epitomised by choice and diversity, an academic curriculum, meritocracy and traditional styles of teaching.”

Indeed Mr Pyne has announced a review of teacher education! That is for another time.

Commentator Mungo MacCallum (“History repeats in curriculum war”) writing in The Drum, the ABC’s comments site, on 21 January observed that Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s review of the national curriculum will not be left solely to his two hand-picked cultural warriors of the extreme right. “They now say they will co-opt experts in every field, as well as call for submissions from all the state and territory curriculum authorities, the independent and Catholic schools, principals, teachers and parents – just about everyone, in fact, except the students themselves. In effect they will be starting again from scratch, and since the process of evolving the original curriculum took several years, Pyne’s ambition to see the results of his review incorporated in the curriculum for the 2015 teaching year seem unlikely to be realised. Indeed, state authorities in New South Wales, to name but one state, have dismissed the idea as fanciful.”

MacCallum also observed, “Wiltshire, whose expertise has been in the broad field of public administration, has some experience in curriculum reform; he headed a similar exercise for Queensland’s Labor premier Wayne Goss, a job which brought him into open conflict with Goss’s chief of staff, one Kevin Rudd. But once again, he has no known acquaintance with maths and science. It is hard to see this ideologically driven review coming up with big improvements in the teaching of either discipline.”

Associate Professor Tony Taylor at Monash University has been intimately associated with the review and formulation of history curricula. In 1999 he was appointed Director of the Australian Government’s National Inquiry into the Teaching and Learning of History and, from 2001-2007, he was Director of the Australian Government’s National Centre for History Education. He has researched and published extensively on history and education. He was a senior consultant with successive Coalition and ALP federal governments in formulating three drafts of a national history curriculum and also developed national professional standards for the teaching and learning of history.

Professor Taylor wrote in The Conversation 10 January, “These appointments come as no surprise. They are entirely in line with the government’s brazen approach to appointing close supporters to positions of authority and influence. The justificatory rhetoric that surrounds the current nominations is familiar, stale and inaccurate.”

Taylor commented in the Fairfax Press on January 16 that “Since federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne’s launch last week of a two-man curriculum review panel, of conservative educationist Kevin Donnelly and conservatively inclined business academic Kenneth Wiltshire, levels of incredulity, derision and cynicism among educators and political commentators (outside News Corp media) have gone off the Richter scale.” He continued, “Pyne might as well have announced he was rearranging the communal henhouse by shoving two foxes through its front door. The curriculum history wars, part of the bigger culture wars that have been blighting the Australian cultural and political landscape for more than a decade, were on again.”

Professor Taylor also observed, “Finally, any criticism of this world view is to be regarded as subversive and is based on godless Marxism or is just plain atheist in origin. Occasionally ill-informed mentions of bogyman postmodernism are thrown into the mix. These complaints form the basis of the current curriculum review.”

Reporters Josephine Tovey and Judith Ireland (“Education: Christopher Pyne’s move to review curriculum dubbed a political stunt”, January 11) reported

the lead writer of the new history curriculum, Professor Stuart Macintyre of the University of Melbourne, as pointing out that the curriculum had been developed by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA), over three years, involving consultation, submissions and contributions from a huge number of people – more than 4000 submissions and surveys were received in relation to English, maths, science and history alone. ”Whereas this is to be conducted by two people who have particular backgrounds. How they’re expected to apply expertise is beyond me, both in the subject areas and in curriculum”.

The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority’s board chairman, Barry McGaw, said he welcomed the review. But he also said the authority had used a ”rigorous, national process” that had produced a high-quality curriculum. ”The Australian curriculum is setting higher standards across the country, perhaps most notably in mathematics and science at the primary school level”.

On the other hand, Professor Judith Sloan, writing in The Australian (October 12, 2013), described the national curriculum as mired in half-baked fads. “I HAVE never been a fan of the idea of a national school curriculum. I can understand why some people find it attractive. What happens to the 80,000 odd school-aged children whose families move interstate every year? How confusing it must be for them to deal with differences in curriculum. Actually, this is a very weak argument. In point of fact, the differences in the content of school courses have never been vast across the states.”

Professor Sloan trashed the economics curriculum: “The bottom line is that the national curriculum on economics and business for years 5 to 10 is tosh. It is page after page of earnest, largely worthless, drivel. I pity the poor teachers who have to use this guide as a basis for preparing teaching materials and lessons.”

The Australian Council of State School Organisations, a peak national group affiliated with most state and territory parents and citizens associations, was reported by Daniel Hurst  in The Guardian of 13 January (‘National curriculum review premature, say parents and teachers’) as questioning the review’s timing and motivation.

“The council’s chief executive officer, Dianne Giblin, said parents were “a bit bemused” by the review because the national curriculum was yet to be completely rolled out. She said parents and parent groups had been heavily involved in developing the national curriculum, with the process attracting thousands of submissions.”

Minister Pyne has said, as reported by Hurst in The Guardian, the aim of the review “was to turn out a robust curriculum, a good curriculum that improves the results of our students” and he said he was confident Donnelly and Wiltshire would produce an objective and fair report. He said the national curriculum should not be a static document and should always be questioned, tested and argued about. “I haven’t appointed a committee that tries to please everybody and therefore does not produce a robust result,” Pyne said.

Neither Donnelly or the other reviewer Professor Ken Wiltshire at the University of Queensland are curriculum experts. The study of curricula is a discipline in itself and one of Australia’s education researchers, Professor Lynn Yates of Melbourne University’s Graduate School of Education is a leading expert in the field. A major conference on the curriculum held at the University of Melbourne in late February 2010 involved distinguished experts in many disciplines. It was hardly reported in the media.

The reasons why the review of the curriculum is a waste of time is at Moving deckchairs on the wrong ship!

 

 

 

 

More on Museums and More on other Issues

Sunday, November 17th, 2013

Museums, Gardens and their Future with Government

A short essay on departures of senior executives from New South Wales museums and botanic gardens in 2013 and what they say about government policies is added to the essays about effective museums. Earlier it had been  posted on my blog, commenced in October 2013. The essay questions whether governments and boards appointed by governments to manage and oversight museums and similar enterprises actually show themselves capable of effectively fulfilling their obligations. In the study of effective museums the first distinction, the most important one, of effective organisations was that they are independent of, or at least maintain a distinct arms length from, government.

Governments are often obsessed with centralised control, which usually ends up achieving very little, and boards appointed by them seldom comprise persons with genuine understanding of the organisation and its principal aims. Newly appointed members are seldom properly briefed at the time of their appointment; the chair is often not appointed because they possess the most important characteristic of an effective chair, the ability to bring people together to envision a shared purpose and ensure meaningful participation of the members of the board, but because they are a friend of the Minister or have achieved prominence in business or some other field. The fact is that often people  rise to positions of prominence for reasons related mainly to who they know and where they went to school. For all these reasons boards of cultural organisations very often fail to achieve effective governance and in particular may not even make appropriate appointments to the most important position, that of executive director.

If the truth of the assertions of the above paragraph seems doubtful, consider the fact that the vast majority of the people in the UK in the professions of the law and finance are from a few “public” schools. A review of the composition of boards of Australian cultural institutions would show that even if the members are scientists or artists they seldom have any experience of leadership or governance. However, their expertise would be valuable were the majority of the decisions made by the board related to considered judgements about the principal purposes and business of the organisation. Instead they often concern financial matters and issues of an administrative nature.

New Essays on Other Issues

In October 2013, a new blog site was commenced. It will contain articles on subjects other than museums, leadership, organisational  development and similar subjects with which this site has been concerned for the last 11 years and education, essays on which have been posted in the last two years.

The first essays deal with climate change; other articles which appear on this main website have been cross posted on the blog site.

A full list of articles on the blog is posted on its own page.

Articles on other sites

Articles published on other online sites are listed on the Publications page of this website. They cover education, economics and climate change.

John Howard, Climate Change Denier and much more!

Thursday, November 7th, 2013

It would be easy to dismiss former Prime Minister John Howard’s address, to acolytes in London, presented at the invitation of climate sceptic and former UK Chancellor Lord Lawson. Over at New Matilda Ben Pobje has done that. So have others including Guy Rundle and Max Gillies in their 2002 production Your Dreaming: Poets, Pontificators and Expatriates and Jonathan Biggins and others at the Sydney Theatre Company satirise numerous politicians and others every year in their Revue.

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Related articles: Australia’s Carbon Emissions Target: Intellectual Laziness At Work

Owl’s Hoots No. 13: Co-Producing The Museum And What Actually Do We Think We’re Doing?

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Several of Howard’s statements are gratuitous, several are misrepresentations.

Howard’s principal statements must be identified for what they are. To suggest that the climate scientists’ statements are “sanctimonious” and that the term “denier” has some overtone of intimidation, as Howard does,  is to misrepresent the meanings of words and the nature of the discourse.

Howard misrepresents the present state of scientific understanding by branding it as a mantra, as a set of views to be not denied. And he asserted, “In the past five years, the dynamic of the global warming debate has shifted away from exaggerated acceptance of the worst possible implications of what a majority of climate scientists tell us, towards a more balanced, and questioning approach.” Rubbish! Dangerous stupid rubbish!

This article is posted at my blog site.

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.

 

What is wrong with the education debate?

Thursday, 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.”

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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).