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What is wrong with the education debate?

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 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).

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