Saturday, October 07, 2006

Feds to seize syllabus from states

A national board of studies with control of a uniform school curriculum is being proposed by the Howard Government in an attempt to wrest back control of schools from "ideologues" in state and territory education departments. Education Minister Julie Bishop will attack state education bureaucrats and accuse them of hijacking school curriculums, distorting them with "Chairman Mao" type ideologies in a speech to the History Teachers Association of Australia today. "Some of the themes emerging in school curriculum are straight from Chairman Mao. We are talking serious ideology here," she will say. "Ideologues ... have hijacked school curriculum and are experimenting with the education of our young people from a comfortable position of unaccountability. "We need to take school curriculum out of the hands of the ideologues in the state and territory education bureaucracies and give it to a national board of studies, comprising the sensible centre of educators."

Ms Bishop is calling for a national debate on the need for a common national school curriculum, saying there is widespread community concern about the content being taught in schools. In her speech today, she will say that the commonwealth has to take the lead in fighting for a "back-to-basics approach" across curriculums and that parents are rightly concerned by educational standards. "How is that we have gone from teaching Latin in Year 12 to teaching remedial English in first-year university?" she says. "The community is demanding an end to fads and wants a return to a commonsense curriculum, with agreed core subjects, like Australian history, and a renewed focus on literacy and numeracy. "The curriculum must be challenging, aiming for high standards, and not accepting the lowest common denominator. "It seems we are lowering the educational bar to make sure everyone gets over it, not raising it to aspire to excellence."

Ms Bishop's attack comes after The Australian highlighted education bureaucrats who have failed to monitor effectively curriculums and the quality of education and who have become captive to teachers' unions. Last month, The Australian published the views of professor Ken Wiltshire, Australia's representative on the executive of the UN education body UNESCO and the architect of the Queensland curriculum under the Goss Labor government. Professor Wiltshire argued that state Labor governments had relinquished control of any system that effectively measured the standard of what was taught in schools and teacher performance.

"Our school curriculums have strayed far from being knowledge-based," he said. "Indeed, knowledge has been replaced by information. It is little wonder that the Howard Government's attempted reforms of schooling have gained traction with the Australian public."

In April, The Australian reported how literary study in Australia had been declared "dead" by Harold Bloom, one of the world's leading authorities on the works of William Shakespeare. After learning that a prestigious Sydney girls school had asked students to apply Marxist, feminist and racial analysis to the play Othello, the internationally renowned critic said: "I find the question sublimely stupid. "It is another indication that literary study has died in Australia," the Sterling professor of humanities at Yale and Berg professor of English at New York University told The Australian.

A spokesman for Labor education spokeswoman Jenny Macklin accused Ms Bishop of contradicting John Howard and others in her party. "Julie Bishop has contradicted both the Prime Minister and the former education minister Brendan Nelson in her attempt to impose mediocrity on our school system," the spokesman said.

Ms Bishop says a national curriculum would be subject to greater public scrutiny and so would be more accountable to the community. This would also remove the duplication of effort and resources currently spent by states developing individual curriculums. She says the states and territories collectively spend more than $180 million running their boards of studies and curriculum councils to develop very similar curriculums in identical subjects. "There are currently nine different year 12 certificates across Australia, each backed by separate curriculum developed by eight different education authorities," she says. "Is it necessary for each state to develop a separate curriculum? "Do we need to have a physics curriculum developed for Queensland, and another, almost identical physics curriculum for Western Australia? "My comments are not directed at teachers. Our teachers are a precious national resource. "Rather, I am critical of the social engineers working away in state government education authorities."


Even the basics seem beyond present-day Australian teachers

A South Australian mother despairs at the lousy state of school education -- and the illiteracy of teachers

It is the last week of term three and the first written assessment of my youngest child's schoolwork for this year has come home. She is in a years 3-4 class with children ranging from eight to 10. Her entire assessment is based on one piece of work, a modest project on Greek mythology. It includes a "critical question: is Greek mythology still relevant today?" and a "rich task: create a poster that shows the roles that Greek gods, heroes and creatures would be seen doing today".

The work is assessed with a rubric that, among other things, is said to examine my child's ability to "analyse history ... and relate this to present possibilities" and "write texts ... which show awareness of different audiences and purposes". The rubric is defined as a scoring guide, but my dictionary does not provide this definition.

Apparently this form of assessment "compliments" the teaching strategies the school uses and encourages the students to "explore a topic deeper". It also leads a parent to despair. I know that I am supposed to work out that Greek mythology is only a "vehicle" for assessing areas of competence, but within minutes of receiving this assessment (and choosing to ignore the numerous inconsistencies therein) I concluded that it was nonsense. There is no mention of maths, reading and spelling, which are my main concerns.

My other child's assessment (sorry, rubric) considers a series of "strands" and came home with a CD-ROM that had to be viewed to work out what the rubric was assessing. Well, I can do that, but what are people without computers supposed to do?

I am one of an army of bewildered and frustrated parents who do not understand how teachers, or the ex-teachers who produce school curriculums, think. How can they produce this form of assessment and believe it is useful and valid? Unfortunately, I suspect that the increasingly bizarre forms of student assessment are not designed to reveal achievement but to disguise the lack of it. Parents are aware of their children's learning deficiencies and vague methods of assessment will not conceal them.

Most parents are clear about what they want their children taught - the basics - and they've been screaming about it for years. The failure of schools to deliver the basics is seen, increasingly, as bloody-mindedness on the part of education departments. But is it? Perhaps all the waffle, political correctness and esoteric rhetoric are used to hide the fact many teachers are no longer capable of teaching the basics.

It is not unusual to wander into a classroom and find spelling or grammatical errors on the whiteboard. (Correct them at your peril.) One of my children was taught by a teacher who never used apostrophes. I have seen a teacher with 30 years' teaching experience misspell nineteen (ninteen) and, when I assumed she'd made a simple mistake, she assured me that she'd checked it in the dictionary and it was correct.

Many children in my eldest child's Year 6 class cannot hold a pencil correctly, do not start sentences with capital letters or use full stops and do not read at their chronological age. When I discussed this with the teacher I was told: "Hardly any of them are reading at their correct reading age: we may have to do something about the tests."

If children are not taught the basics, they cannot perform well in tests on them. Poor test results do not look good for any school, ergo don't test or report on the basics. Give us a rubric about Greek mythology instead. Entrance requirements for teaching courses have always been low and continue to decline. I don't know how this decline can be arrested but I do know that teachers, however well meaning, are often unaware of their own limitations and never blame themselves for children's failure to learn.

From a parent's perspective, there are solutions: change the curriculum to emphasise basic skills; eliminate all-day sports clinics, visits from TV, radio or football personalities and so on; allow principals to sack underperforming teachers or insist that they attend courses to improve their skills; give good teachers large bonuses (with good teachers being determined by the parents, not their peers); and provide a simple, graded reporting system. Is this really too hard?

Meanwhile, there may be some hope at my children's school because "next term their will be opportunities to provide feedback on the new reporting format in various different formats". Parents will spend the holidays formatting various forms of complete rubbish.


Migrants told to fit in by citizenship boss

New migrants and refugees should realise they will have to learn English and get a job quickly in order to fit in to Australian society, Citizenship Parliamentary Secretary Andrew Robb said last night. And Mr Robb strenuously rejected claims by fellow Victorian Liberal MP Petro Georgiou that a proposed English test would prevent thousands of migrants from becoming citizens.

He also warned that molly-coddling migrants could foster a "destructive victim mentality". "We run the risk of fostering a mentality which works against these new arrivals, and does not support them in having a successful life in Australia," he said. "We must seek to avoid at all costs giving these new Australians messages that they are disadvantaged, that they are part of the welfare class, not part of the employee or employer class."

Mr Robb said new migrants should know what is expected of them "even before people board the aircraft". "They should be told they are expected to quickly join the workforce, not rely on the welfare system," he said.

On Wednesday Mr Georgiou blasted the Government's proposed new citizenship test which proposes a test of migrants' English skills, knowledge of Australian history and values. Mr Georgiou said the proposals would undermine the most successful migration program in history and would have prevented many great new Australians from becoming citizens.

But Mr Robb said new migrants should be told from the outset that they have to achieve certain milestones including a workable level of English, a job, high retention rates in school, and regular interaction with other groups in the community through activities such as sport. He said migrants were generally highly motivated to join Australian society, but that fell when faced with the hurdles of job rejection and lack of English skills. "Motivation, enthusiasm and keenness to learn is progressively replaced by declining self-esteem and a mentality increasingly focused on holding on to benefits, rather than reaching out for the opportunities offered in Australia," Mr Robb said.

He said the suggestions that migrants and refugees should "take their time" to fit in and sort out their problems, was poor advice. "Getting a job quickly may at first be very confronting, but we all know from our life experience that getting on with life heals wounds, builds confidence and initiative, and in this case a job can be a great aid to mastering the English language," he said


Australia's Leftist church leaders are irrelevant

Even a senior Labor party spokesman seems to think so! Comment below by Andrew Bolt

Federal Labor has a problem in church that's just like the problem it has in our other temples of culture. It's making pals with the priests, not the parishioners. It's cuddling up to the cultural elite again, and not the masses they fail to represent. And Kevin Rudd, Labor's foreign affairs spokesman next leader, doesn't get it. In an essay this week, Rudd urges Christians to get involved in politics -- the politics of the Left, that is. A Christian himself, he complains: "My concern is that in recent years we've only been hearing one set of Christian views on politics -- and that has been an overwhelmingly conservative one."

May God not strike him dead for sinning against the ninth commandment. Yet such is the ignorance of the media on matters Christian that not one commentator said, "Verily, Kev, thou bearest false witness." The fact is that despite the hysteria over the rise of Pentecostal churches and the election of one senator from the Christian-conservative Family First party, the church elites are as still as furiously of the Left as are the elites of all our cultural institutions. And just as out of touch.

Rudd claims he's still waiting to hear a properly "Christian view on the impact of the Americanisation of our industrial relations system", "a Christian view of global climate change" and "a Christian view of asylum seekers". Heavens, is he deaf? Or has Rudd in fact not been inside a church in years? In fact, bishops and senior priests of every one of the big traditional Christian denominations are still harrying bored congregations with sermons on just these topics that Red Rudd himself could have written. Examples? How many do you want?

Take Anglican Bishop Philip Huggins, a former adviser to then Victorian Labor treasurer Rob Jolly, who last year held an ecumenical church service to protest the "radical and distressing industrial relations proposals of the Howard Government". Or consider the farewell address the Rev Dean Drayton gave in July as president of the Uniting Church, urging Christians to get into that sandals and sackcloth stuff through "the wise use of energy (and) the protection of the environment". Drayton went on, in a way that should have had Rudd crying hallelujah!: "Anti-terrorist laws have traded away basic rights before the law. The Government has abrogated our international obligations to asylum seekers. It has turned its face from David Hicks." The man who took over as the church's president, the Rev Gregor Henderson, used his very first address to likewise lecture the faithful on Hicks, "asylum seekers", workplace relations, the war in Iraq, human rights and the "restrictions of the anti-terrorist laws".

No wonder Bronwyn Pike had no trouble switching from being the Uniting Church's director of justice and social responsibility to serving as a minister in the Bracks Labor Government.

Of course, we're no longer surprised that the leaders of the Anglicans are just as verbose on global warming and the mythical "stolen generations" (yet near mute on abortion), but it's sad to find the supposedly conservative Catholics little better. Although Cardinal George Pell may have tried to get priests to talk more about God than the devil, John Howard, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference still issues press releases with such Rudd-tickling headlines as "Bishop calls for justice for David Hicks" and "Catholic Bishop welcomes Government's withdrawal of offshore processing Bill".

As if that's not enough, these Big Three establishment churches have, with like-minded others, formed the Australian Council of Churches, which does yet more Leftist lobbying. Check its recent press releases. The ACC denounced the Howard Government's crackdown on people smugglers, criticised its workplace laws, and even issued a joint press release with the neo-pagans of the Australian Conservation Foundation to tell us to "to tackle dangerous climate change". These are bishops who seem more worried by the heat on earth than by the heat in hell.

No, the church elites are as Leftist as ever. Even Rudd sort of admits that when he protests: "(W)henever an Australian Christian leader speaks out on industrial relations, Iraq or Guantanamo Bay, they are publicly attacked by Howard, Peter Costello, Alexander Downer, Kevin Andrews and the rest of the crew." What sinners, those Liberals! Fancy, when a bishop now preaches Left politics, the wicked Howard Government now answers back.

But it's not just Liberal politicians who are fed up with this political barracking from the altar. In 1991, the authoritative National Church Life Survey asked churchgoers what would get them to join some other congregation. Would it be the lure of joining one that preached more the word of God, or one that rather preached on social action? God was preferred to politics by a margin of three to one, but the mainstream churches wouldn't take heed. No wonder that every one of them have since seen their pews emptying.

So what in this tale of Left-spruiking preachers (and ticked-off parishioners) could possibly have caused Rudd -- and others in Labor -- to think the churches were shunning Labor? The scary thing for him is that many more conservative Christians have decided to move their worshipful rear ends to the pews of new churches that have more to say on God than climate change, and rather like the idea of people being held responsible for their sins and their own salvation. I'm referring especially to Pentecostal churches such as the giant Hillsong mega-worship complex, which are blossoming in our outer suburbs. These are ones that praise hard work as much as they do charity, with the Assemblies of God declaring: "We believe that God wants to heal and transform us so that we can live healthy and prosperous lives in order to help others more effectively."

You can see how the folk of such churches might feel about socialism, say, and you might guess how fed up they were with the politics preached at them at the Anglican or Uniting Churches many long quit. So, no wonder the Pentecostal churches have grown so fast, with the Assemblies of God alone tripling its followers from 1977 to 1997, and now getting Steve Fielding elected to the Senate. These, and independent churches like them, have now formed the Australian Christian Churches, which represents up to 200,000 worshippers, who tend to be younger than other Christians and much more likely to turn up to church on Sundays.

And such people can lobby hard if they're stirred. So can sympathetic groups such as the Australian Christian Lobby, led by former SAS commander Brigadier (retired) Jim Wallace, whose big rally in Parliament House in 2004 helped to frighten Labor off backing gay marriage. The ACL isn't very keen on late-term abortion, either.

These are the people who have Rudd worried. And -- so typical of Labor's new aristocracy -- he's reacted in exactly the wrong way. Instead of listening to the disgruntled masses, he's ordered the elites to herd the mob back into a tidy flock. Instead of trying to woo the conservative parishioners, he's urging their Left-wing priests to preach even louder, as if yet more of the same strident sermons will fix what's ailing the churches and Labor itself. Think it will work? Kevin, you haven't got a prayer


No comments: