So the second Gonski Report was released today. The first Gonski report was a review of school funding and was released in 2012. This Gonski Report is a report into the Review to Achieve Educational Excellence in Australian Schools
So far, this is what the media has said:
The country must urgently modernise its industrial-era model of school education and move towards individualised learning for all students. (ABC)
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will push for a radical overhaul of the Australian curriculum after endorsing a blueprint by businessman David Gonski to fix the country’s lagging school system. (SMH)
And the usual conservative positive spin from The Australian:
Gonski legacy to dumb down the curriculum
Critical thinking trumps knowledge in Gonski
I’m still working my way through the report, so this post is just me thinking out loud while I consider the report. While you can read it in full, this image presents it as one page:
I’ll save my thoughts on the recommendations for another day, but here are my initial thoughts about the three priorities.
- Deliver at least one year’s growth for every student every year. While this seems laudable and an unobjectionable (and very Hattie-sque), I have questions. One year’s growth for each student every year seems to be what teachers do already yeah? But if we are going to put numbers on it, well now my undergrad education in psychology is coming out. One year’s growth would seem to be based on some idea of what students (on average) learn in a year. Of course, this average is derived by adding up the all learning achieved by all students (can we even measure this?) in a year divided by the number of students. Of course, the average is generated by students who learnt less and students who learnt more. So the average is a fiction when applied to an individual. For an example, if I were to add up an equal number of men and women to determine the average gender, I’d be presented with a half-man/half woman, reflective of exactly no one in my sample. Students learn at different paces, it plateaus, it stalls and it can be rapid at times. It doesn’t follow a neat curve from year to year and I would hope (forlornly, maybe?) that accountability of teachers isn’t a part of this process of ensuring that teachers deliver at least one year’s growth for every student.
- Equip every student to be a creative, connected, engaged learner in a rapidly changing world. Oh, there are echoes of the Melbourne Declaration here, with this talk of ‘creative’ – apparently we didn’t meet this goal from 2008 (perhaps, because we had no way of measuring ‘ creativity’. Do we have a way now?). Connected, hey? This sounds very much like we going to be putting our educational eggs in the technology basket. Let’s see, what’s the third priority again?
- Cultivate an adaptive, innovative, and continuously improving education system. Hmm. it could just be me but this sounds like a recipe for ‘change fatigue‘ . It’s sounds like we are throwing open the doors for edu-tech solutions that will give us personalised learning and adaptive testing. What could possibly go wrong? I mean it’s not like personalised learning has a dodgy history that we have collectively forgotten.
But Rachel, (I hear you say) you seem very cynical, can you justify this position? Maybe. If you think I’m being unfair here’s your required reading:
The Australian educational policy landscape is inherently contradictory and teachers are caught between opposing goals. In such cases, the goals with accountability mechanisms attached (hello, My School) with be the one that is focused on. Buchanan, R., Holmes, K., Preston, G. & Shaw, K. (2012). Basic literacy or new literacies? Examining the contradictions of Australia’s education revolution, Australian Journal of Teacher Education, 37(6), 97-110. DOI: 10.14221/ajte.2012v37n6.8.
While the Melbourne Declaration contains worthy goals and a holistic vision for Australian schooling, the sections of the Declaration with the most bite are those that focus on teacher accountability. Buchanan, R. & Chapman, A. (2011). ‘Utopia or dystopia? A critical examination of the Melbourne Declaration’, PESA Conference 2011, Auckland, New Zealand.
Teachers have concerns about the increasing commercialisation of public education, especially that entering the ecosystem of schools via ed tech. Testing and curriculum companies are offering products that undercut teachers’ autonomy. Hogan, A., Thompson, G., Sellar, S. & Lingard, B. (2017). Teachers’ and schools leaders ‘ perceptions of commercialisation in public schools. Australian Educational Researcher, 45, 141 – 160. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13384-017-0246-7
John Hattie’s explanation of his work, in his own words. He works with numbers, not theory (as though statistics is not a theory-laden discipline). Knudsen, H. (2017). John Hattie: I’m a statistician, I’m not a theoretician. Nordic Journal of Studies in Education Policy, 3(3), 253 – 261. https://doi.org/10.1080/20020317.2017.1415048
This context in terms of what is happening globally, education governance is going trans-national. This analysis makes clear that Australia is following global trends with its own localised permutations. Sellar, S., & Lingard, B. (2014). The OECD and the expansion of PISA: New global modes of governance in education. British Educational Research Journal, 40, 917–936. https://doi.org/10.1002/berj.3120
Simpson unpacks the numbers and makes it clear that ‘evidence-based’ policy should have a broader remit than a reliance on standardised effects sizes. He makes clear why such effect sizes are flawed. Simpson, A. (2017). The misdirection of public policy: Comparing and combining and standarised effect sizes. Journal of Education Policy, 32(4), 450-466. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2017.1280183
Given that this report is endorsing technological solutions such as personalised learning and adaptive testing, its worth taking a look at what such notions involve. Thompson, G. (2017). Computer adaptive testing, big data and algorithmic approaches to education. British Journal of Sociology of Education. 38, 827 – 840. https://doi.org/10.1080/01425692.2016.1158640
As many of the ed tech solutions being proffered for education globally have their origins in Silicon Valley, a determined look at the politics, ideologies and goals of those seeking to reform public education through technology is required. Williamson, B. (2017a). Educating Silicon Valley: Corporate education reform and the reproduction of the techno-economic revolution. Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies, 39(3), 265–288. https://doi.org/10.1080/10714413.2017.1326274.
Focusing on ClassDojo, an ed tech product that purports to give educators a way of measuring non-academic outcomes, Williamson analysis the problematic aspects of this popular app. Williamson, B. (2017b). Decoding ClassDojo: psycho-policy, social-emotional learning and persuasive educational technologies. Learning, Media and Technology, 1–14. https://doi.org/10.1080/17439884.2017.1278020
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