Wednesday, February 28, 2007


There are many parallels between the Australian and American education scenes but, under strong Federal government leadership, the ignorant and destructive Leftist stranglehold on Australian education is at last beginning to be unwound -- as we see in the four current articles below:

Teachers to be tested on literacy

Student teachers will sit a literacy and numeracy test when starting their university course and teachers will have to undertake continuing education to qualify for registration and higher rates of pay under proposals tabled in Federal Parliament yesterday. A two-year inquiry into teacher education calls for a national accreditation system of university teaching courses, with accreditation made a condition of receiving federal funds, and for national teacher registration, to be administered by the states.

The report, Top of the Class, also calls for an increase in funding for education students, both while at university and when undertaking their practical component, and a one-year induction program for beginning teachers. It recommends the practical component be funded separately and not wrapped into the larger university grant as at present, and that overall funding for teaching courses be increased by about $1800 a full-time student.

Under the induction program, based on a Scottish model, new teachers would spend 20 per cent less time in face-to-face teaching. They would be assigned a qualified mentor, observe classes and undertake professional development courses. The mentor would be trained, given time to properly perform the role, and be paid for the job. The scheme would be voluntary to start and funded by the Federal Government contributing 10 per cent of a starting salary, and by the employer.

It also calls on the Federal Government to ensure that it better allocates the funding of teacher education places to address shortages in the workforce. At present, Australia is training too many primary school teachers and insufficient maths and science teachers.

Tabling the report in the House of Representatives yesterday, the chair of the education and vocational training committee, Luke Hartsuyker, said teacher education was not in crisis but that improvements could be made. "If we invest $1 in teacher education, we're going to provide an increased return on investment in every other dollar in the system," he said.

The report dismisses the idea of setting a minimum tertiary entrance score, believing it would preclude too many applicants and particularly a diverse candidature including indigenous students and those from a non-English speaking or low socioeconomic background. It instead recommends a diagnostic test to identify student teachers' problems with literacy and numeracy and provide them with remedial teaching. "Attention should be focused on the capabilities graduates have at the end of their courses rather than at the beginning," it says.

The report says only four of the 31 Australian universities training teachers require students to have studied maths in Year 12 and that a further eight required students to have Year 11 maths.


It's the teachers who teach the teachers who are at fault

How effective is teacher training in Australia? The question is more than academic. After all, the quality and effectiveness of the classroom teacher is one of the most important determinants of successful learning. The commonwealth report on teacher training, Top of the Class, released yesterday, suggests that all is well and that there is no crisis.

Wrong. As University of Melbourne emeritus professor Brian Start points out, teacher training suffers from provider capture and there is little attempt to measure effectiveness. In 2005-06, Start contacted 38 teacher training institutions, asking whether there was any evidence of a link between teacher training - indicated by admission procedures and graduation scores for prospective teachers - and success, however defined, after teaching for three to six years. Not only did about half of the institutions fail to return the questionnaire but it appeared that none had undertaken any research investigating how effective their courses were in preparing teachers for the classroom.

According to Start in a paper given in Philadelphia last year: "Teacher education is a legal requirement for entering the teaching profession. Universities have a monopoly on this process (as) the providers. They select, train, qualify and certify graduates as competent to teach. Yet there does not appear to be any validity checks on the near billion-dollar enterprise."

Start argues that teacher training institutes are unaccountable. For evidence, consider a paper related to establishing the National Institute for Quality Teaching and School Leadership prepared by the Australian Council for Educational Research. "To our knowledge," the paper states, "no teacher education program or institution has ever been disaccredited, yet variation in quality is known to be considerable." It goes on: "Teacher education is arguably one of the least accountable and least examined areas of professional education in Australia."

It is easy to find evidence that beginning teachers are not being properly equipped to teach. Says one submission to the commonwealth parliamentary inquiry into teacher education, written by the Australian Secondary Principals Association and based on a questionnaire to 600 beginning teachers: "The respondents indicated that their colleagues at school had provided the most worthwhile support and advice with relatively little value being given to that provided by university personnel."

Not only does the ASPA submission argue that teacher training must better prepare teachers for the classroom but it concludes that teacher education "was at best satisfactory" as a preparation for teaching and in "several areas it is clear that they felt that they were significantly under-prepared".

A 2005 survey of beginning teachers, funded by the federal Government, identified literacy, especially the basics represented by spelling, grammar and phonics, as one area in which teachers lacked confidence and knowledge of effective teaching. Fifty-seven per cent of primary school teachers felt unprepared to teach phonics and 51 per cent of secondary teachers interviewed felt unprepared to teach reading.

Of course, it's not the teachers' fault that they struggle in the classroom. Blame rests with teacher education institutions that appear to be driven more by politically correct fads such as whole language - where children are taught to look and guess instead of sounding out syllables and words - and new age theories such as constructivism, where teachers no longer teach. Students, in the words of the commonwealth report Teaching Reading, are treated as "self-regulating learners who construct knowledge co-operatively with other learners in developmentally appropriate ways". And there's more: "Adoption of a constructivist approach in the classroom involves a shift from predominantly teacher-directed methods to student-centred, active discovery learning and immersion approaches via co-operative group work, discussion focused on investigations and problem solving."

During the past few years The Australian has detailed example after example of how the curriculum has been dumbed down and how standards have fallen. While some suggest teachers are at fault, the real culprits are those responsible for teacher education who fail to provide them with the right tools to do the job


Schools dump soft options

The number of subjects Queensland's senior students can study will be slashed to fewer than 20 in the latest phase of the most widespread education reforms since the 1970s. A two-year review has recommended non-mainstream subjects such as recreation, tourism, retail and marine studies be scrapped to enable children to gain a deeper and broader knowledge in their chosen areas of study. Education Minister Rod Welford said the aim of the review was to reduce the "curriculum clutter". "Subject options have been growing like Topsy," Mr Welford said.

But he claimed that while the new system would offer fewer subjects, students would receive a broader education because they would not be specialising so narrowly. "There has been a knowledge explosion and we have to adjust accordingly," Mr Welford said.

The latest changes come less than a week after the Queensland Studies Authority recommended students in Years 1 to 10 go back to learning plain English. Selective state school academies for gifted students have also been introduced, while last month the first intake of Prep Year students began school.

The reforms reverse the trend in recent decades towards "new age" teaching methods which have come under sustained attack from federal Education Minister Julie Bishop and conservative academics.

Mr Welford said the move to cut the current offering of about 80 senior school subjects to between 16 and 20 subjects would add depth and flexibility. It would give students new options to study core subjects at basic and advanced level as well as the option of specialising in their areas of expertise. The new system, likely to be in place by 2009, would result in current subjects such as tourism, recreation, retail, manufacturing and marine studies being subsumed into broader subjects to be known as fields of learning. Mr Welford said the "fields of learning" would include maths, science, English, humanities, technology and design and business. "It will allow for a broader inter-disciplinary approach to allow advance science students, for example, to study emerging fields like biotechnology and nanotechnology as well as the traditional physics and chemistry," he said.

Students opting for a business pathway, for example, would be able to include subjects like legal studies as well as accounting and economics. Mr Welford also hoped to give students the option to begin a foreign language at Year 11. At present that is possible under the international baccalaureate program but not the general Queensland public school system.

The senior syllabus review is being chaired by Griffith University Deputy-Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar. He said teachers, parents, Education Queensland, Catholic Education authorities, independent schools and TAFE were represented on the reference group. "We have had wide public consultation and we will be seeking more feedback when a proposal is finalised," Professor Dewar said.

Russell Pollock, principal of The Gap school in Brisbane's western suburbs, said his school had between 160 and 168 students in each year level and offered 30 to 40 senior subjects. "Sitting down with parents and a guidance officer at the end of Year 10 is essential for students selecting their subjects for Years 11 and 12," he said. Queensland Teachers Union President Steve Ryan said teachers were open-minded about the move but were generally satisfied with the current system. "It is important that students do not narrow down their options too early," he said.


Tot schools' dubious nurturing claims

Here's one for parents keen to get ahead of the pack, writes Bettina Arndt. They can enrol their children in early learning programs. Very early learning programs. The good Bettina blames the destructive move on career-minded parents but it should be added that the parents concerned -- mothers in particular -- are just doing what the feminist Left have always preached: put a career first and farm kids out to group "carers". And that was also of course the Communist system -- both in the Soviet orbit and in the Israeli kibbutzim

For years now, Melbourne's Methodist Ladies College has run a school kindy that takes babies of six weeks and older. That's far earlier than the Perth school, St Hilda's, which attracted headlines last week by allowing 2 1/2-year-olds into its new junior kindy. Newspaper photos featured the tiny tots, complete with school uniform, satchel on their backs. Across the country, private schools are now increasing school enrolments by attracting pupils very, very young. It's proving popular with busy, affluent parents keen on the idea of putting their infants and toddlers into "enriching learning environments."

MLC's program promises even the youngest students will discover the fun of learning a language, explore computing and engage in gymnastics. The Cathedral School in Townsville boasts it offers babies a stimulating environment for promoting fine and gross motor skills as well as sensory development. Most of these schools are willing to take youngsters from 7am to 6pm, with a solid five hours of schooling in the middle. And they offer all this enrichment for 50 weeks a year.

What a cynical exercise. Shame on these schools for conning parents into believing children of that age benefit from this crazy hot-housing. If these programs are indeed put together by trained early education teachers, they should know better. Basic knowledge of early child development shows infants and toddlers are unlikely to thrive when they are separated from their primary carers for such long hours. And surely they learned something about the slower pace of these tiny children who need time to explore their world.

Walk down the street with a two-year-old and watch as the child stops to pick up a leaf, or dawdles along looking over a shoulder to examine his shadow or decides to sit down and look at her feet. Time is slow, the world is fascinating. So what are parents doing cramming these little children into uniforms at daybreak, rushing them into cars and dumping them at so-called "schools"?

The educational hook provides a convenient excuse to allow parents to justify their choice of minimalist parenting. For five years I lived in New York, where minimalist parenting was an art form. There was a childcare centre opposite where I lived and I'd watch sleepy toddlers dropped off well before sunrise and picked up long after dark, often not even by their parents but night shift nannies. Sports clubs were available to take older children off your hands not only afternoons but all weekend, delivered to your door late Sunday evening.

That would never happen in family friendly Australia - or so I thought. Last year, Queensland newspapers reported childcare services in seaside resorts were under pressure to open on Christmas Day - sometimes to help parents forced to work, but often because parents wanted to have a good time without the children.

So let's not kid ourselves that parents are putting babies or toddlers for long hours into this new school care because they have no choice. The high fees demand high earners - often affluent, two-income professionals who don't want children putting a brake on their careers. The real choice we should question is why they have children if neither parent is willing or able to cut back for a few years to provide some slack in the system.

The hot-housing may well misfire. We know spending long hours in even the most stimulating group care does not set children up for a brilliant school career. Solid international research shows these children are at risk of developing problem behaviours -- aggression, disobedience, conflicted relations with teachers, poorer work habits and social skills. Here are children who start off with one of life's great bonuses - educated, successful parents. How sad they hardly ever get to see them.


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