Tag Archives: Australia

Leading Futures: Alternative Perspectives on Education Reform and Policy

In this latest post in the Leading Futures Series, edited by Alma Harris and Michelle Jones, Jenny Gore and Geoff Whitty describe an alternative approach to improving teaching that challenges predominant forms of accountability. Drawing from their public lecture at Bath Spa University on May 17, 2017, with a focus on the potential of Gore’s work in Australia on Quality Teaching Rounds, they suggest that the approach should now be trialed elsewhere.  Jenny Gore is Professor of Education and Geoff Whitty holds a Global Innovation Chair at the University of Newcastle, Australia. 

Improving teaching: some lessons from Australia

Jenny Gore and Geoff Whitty

Why on earth would we look to Australia for lessons about education? After all, its PISA scores have dropped down the rankings where they now sit alongside those of many other OECD nations. What does Australia have to offer that differs from the apparently more successful countries in Scandinavia and East Asia that have often been the focus of policy tourism?

One answer is, of course, that PISA is not the be-all and end-all of educational assessment. But another reason is that other factors have overridden ‘PISA envy’ for countries like the US and UK, which are much more similar to each other than they are to either Finland or Shanghai-China. Their continuing mutual interest in each other’s reforms probably lies with shared social and political networks and assumptive worlds – and, of course, a common language with which to describe reforms.

Indeed, readers in the US and UK, and many others influenced by Anglo-Saxon policies, will readily recognize the major challenges identified by Bentley and Savage in a recent book on policies changes in Australia in recent years. These include:

  • a national curriculum
  • standardised national assessments in literacy and numeracy (NAPLAN)
  • national reporting on schools (through the My School website)
  • professional standards for teachers and school principals
  • a universally accessible year of pre-school
  • partial implementation of needs-based funding reforms (Gonski).

But they also point out that, despite these reforms, there is unfortunately very little sign of positive impacts or outcomes. For example:

  • The percentage of Australian students successfully completing Year 12 is not improving.
  • State and federal school funding policies are still reproducing a status quo that entrenches sectoral division and elitism.
  • New evidence-informed methods, such as clinical and targeted teaching models, are being taken up very slowly in teacher education degrees and schools.
  • The status and efficacy of vocational learning have shown little meaningful improvement.
  • NAPLAN and My School have not led to improvements in literacy and numeracy, with 2016 data showing either stagnation or decline.
  • The performance of Australian students in international assessments of maths, science and literacy skills has steadily declined.

Depressingly familiar stuff to many of us, isn’t it?  Similarly, take this recent statement by Geoff Masters, CEO of the Australian Council for Educational Research.

There is no shortage of challenges in school education. Some of the biggest challenges we face can appear frustratingly intractable. Despite reform efforts, regular government reviews and ongoing calls for change, progress in addressing our most significant challenges is often slow and solutions continue to elude us.

Equally familiar are the five key challenges he identifies as facing Australian education:

  1. Equipping students for the 21st Century, including by increasing reading, mathematical and scientific literacy levels.
  2. Reducing disparities between…schools, particularly along socioeconomic lines, by ensuring that every student has access to an excellent school and excellent teaching.
  3. Reducing the ‘long tail’ of underachieving students who fall behind year-level curriculum expectations and thus fail to meet minimum international standards.
  4. Getting all children off to a good start, by reducing the number of children who begin school with low levels of school readiness and so are at risk of ongoing low achievement.
  5. Raising the professional status of teaching, by increasing the number of highly able school leavers entering teaching.

While this last challenge resonates with the aspirations of many countries, and policy direction of initiatives like Teach for America, Gore et al. have demonstrated that the solution identified here by Masters may be misleading. Rather, the sort of approach we describe below may be a better way to enhance professionalism in teaching.

Bentley and Savage say of Australia, over the past decade ‘the policy landscape has become riddled with reform “solutions” that subject students, teachers, administrators and policymakers to mounting levels of pressure and stress’ and that ‘the short-term cyclical churn of today’s politics and media clearly exacerbates these problems.’

Although the policy context of other countries differs in detail, their actual policies have much in common. In many countries, regulation and accountability have taken a hold on government attitudes towards the teaching profession, alongside (though in different degrees) a belief in market forces as providing a way forward. Education academics (ourselves included) have been rather better at critique of such developments than in pointing to an alternative way forward. What we want to argue is that widely sought-after improvements in teaching will remain elusive unless teachers are afforded more respect, trust and, especially, professional support.

One tested example of such an approach lies in work conducted at the University of Newcastle, Australia, which puts down a challenge to policy makers who seek genuine improvement in teaching. The approach, known Quality Teaching Rounds (QTR), has produced measurable impact on the quality of teaching while simultaneously enhancing teachers’ morale and confidence.

QTR is a form of teacher professional development designed by Bowe and Gore to bring together the benefits of professional learning communities (PLCs), instructional ‘rounds’, and the Quality Teaching (QT) pedagogical framework (NSW Department of Education and Training [NSW DET], 2003). The framework centres on the three dimensions of Intellectual Quality, Quality Learning Environment, and Significance. QTR involves teachers working in PLCs of three or more teachers to observe and analyse each other’s teaching, using the QT framework, followed by extended conversation about their collective practice. QTR is a distinctive form of professional development which: is applicable across stages and subject areas; addresses teaching comprehensively; requires minimal external input; and is adaptable to the specific teaching context. This is in contrast to professional development that: is stage or subject-specific; addresses a part of teaching practice only; requires ongoing provision of external expertise; and is highly prescriptive of practice.

In a recent randomised controlled trial, 24 NSW public schools participated in an investigation of the impact of QTR. Eight teachers at each of the schools were involved in the study, with lesson observations carried out by researchers, who were blinded to group allocation, at three time points – baseline, post-intervention (6-months), and follow up (12- months). There were two intervention groups (QTR-Set and QTR-Choice) and a wait-list control group.

Participating in QTR was found to significantly impact on the quality of teaching (d =0.4-0.5) within the relatively short timeframe of this intervention (most teachers were involved for four days or less) across a diverse range of schools. Moderators of intervention effects were explored for: type of school, SES, location, teaching experience, and gender of teacher.

The key findings were that the quality of teaching improved for both intervention groups and these effects were sustained six months later, signaling the sustainability of impact into a new school year. Effects were independent of school type (primary/secondary) and location (urban/rural) and years of teaching experience. Effects on teacher morale and sense of recognition and appraisal yielded similar results for the two intervention groups, relative to control group. In interviews, teachers reported positive impacts on their own and their colleagues’ teaching and professional confidence, on collegiality and school culture, and on their students. The next study in this programme of work is another RCT designed to investigate further the impact of QTR on student learning outcomes.

The findings from the earlier study demonstrate the value of QTR in not only improving the quality of teaching but simultaneously enhancing teacher morale and teaching cultures across a range of schools and classroom settings in diverse communities. QTR was found to be an effective form of professional development, improving the quality of teaching in primary and secondary schools across subject areas and for teachers at different stages of their careers. The positive effects of QTR are thus highly generalisable across school contexts.

The approach not only builds on widely accepted ‘principles of effective PD,’ but can be implemented at scale and at a relatively low cost. It supports teachers in improving their practice while also developing their efficacy, well-being and professional engagement. This is in stark contrast to approaches that subject teachers to greater levels of accountability, evaluation, and performance review.

This Australian approach simultaneously, and ambitiously, provides evidence of a kind that is persuasive to governments and education systems that want to be sure their investments have pay-off and empower teachers. Such an approach is part of the jigsaw of educational improvement that has somehow been missing in many contexts. We argue that improving teaching in order to improve pupils’ learning depends, in large part, on teachers’ confidence in themselves and each other. This differs from prevailing approaches that seek to improve teaching through forms of accountability premised on a lack of confidence in and respect for teachers. In short, QTR is an alternative that can build public confidence in teachers from the ground up.

A Tale of Two Countries: Improvement in Germany and Decline in Australia’s Educational Performance

This post by Dr. Stephen Dinham offers his observations and reflections on educational policy and performance in Germany and Australia. Dinham has over forty years of experience in Australian education as a teacher and academic, and has been visiting Germany since 2008 under the auspices of the Robert Bosch Stiftung [foundation]. A visit of three months in late 2014-early 2015 as a Richard von Weizsäcker Fellow of the Robert Bosch Academy enabled him to spend a longer period in Germany visiting schools, observing classrooms, teaching, presenting, interviewing in schools, universities and various government departments, and engaging with educators, relevant ministers, officials and others. The focus of his fellowship was on comparing the German educational landscape with that of Australia, including structural and regulatory arrangements, policy, and current trends and developments. This is the second post in the Leading Futures series, which is designed to share different views on the process and practice of changing education systems for the better. The first post in this series, by Alma Harris, Michelle Jones, Jan Heijmans and Job Christians, focused on the success of the educational system in The Netherlands.

When I first visited Germany in 2008 I was struck by several concerns many Germans had about their educational system.

The first concern grew from the ‘PISA shock’, still being felt from Germany’s results on the first Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) in 2000. Germany had believed its education system to be amongst the most effective in the world. PISA indicated otherwise.

The second, possibly related concern, focused on the educational attainment of growing numbers of migrant and refugee children. Many of these children had non-German speaking backgrounds, from nations such as Turkey, Russia, Poland and the Balkans, and some wondered whether they might have contributed at least in part for the unexpectedly unfavourable results.

My other major impression of German education was that of its tightly regulated nature, in contrast to Australia.

Today, in 2016, however, I am struck by the contrast between Germany’s steady improvement in international measures of educational performance and Australia’s general decline. Below, I explore these differences in performance and then describe some of the major similarities and differences in the two systems.

Comparing Educational Performance in Germany and Australia (2000-2016)

The “Pisa shock” in 2000 reflected the fact that German policy makers and the general public were of the opinion that Germany had one of the most effective and highest performing education systems in the world. Although there were warning signs that were largely ignored when Germany first took part in the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) in 1995 and the nation scored relatively poorly, the first PISA results made it clear that many German schools were under-performing compared with other participating countries. Germany reacted strongly to these adverse findings, however, and Germany’s PISA results have improved in every iteration since 2000.

The OECD summarised the major factors contributing to Germany’s strong recovery and improvement on PISA since 2000:

  • Changes made to the structure of secondary schooling to enable greater accessibility to the various qualifications including the Abitur and other measures aimed at overcoming the effects of socio-economic background on student achievement, which are greater than for any other OECD country.
  • The high quality of Germany’s teachers including the strong focus on initial selection, state-based examinations, training and certification.
  • The value of Germany’s dual system whereby workplace skills can be developed in children before they leave school.
  • The development of some common standards and curricula guidelines and the assessment and research capacity to monitor these.

Because of near universal public education in Germany, coupled with strong Land control, it may have been easier to introduce reforms across systems and schools than might be the case in a more diverse and less ‘controlled’ system such as Australia, which has a large (by world standards) and growing non-government school sector.

International tests are only one indicator of teaching and learning achievement but the following comparisons between Germany and Australia may be instructive.

While Germany’s PISA results have shown steady improvement since 2000, that is not the case for Australia, where PISA results have been in general decline and measures such as PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study) and TIMSS have recorded primary school results that are inferior in comparative terms to Australia’s secondary TIMSS and PISA results.

In fact, on every aspect of TIMSS, PIRLS and PISA – with the exception of PISA Reading Literacy where Australia narrowly leads Germany and with the difference in performance not significant – German students now outperform their Australian counterparts, a startling turnaround from the beginning of this century.

Germany, along with Mexico and Turkey, are the only countries to have improved in both PISA mathematics and equity since 2003, with these improvements largely the result of better performance amongst low-achieving and disadvantaged students, and with Germany’s performance in mathematics, reading and science now above OECD averages. Possibly the one negative amongst this pattern of significant improvement is that PISA data show Germany also has one of the highest rates of grade repetition among OECD countries (in 2012, one in five German students had repeated a grade at least once). However, some might argue the improvements in performance are partly attributable to this repetition.

 

Similarities and Differences in Educational Policy and Organisation

Germany and Australia are similar in that constitutionally education is a state responsibility. In Germany there are 16 Bundesländer/Länder educational ‘systems’ rather than one, with each state determining its own educational policies, regulations and mechanisms for standards, innovations and quality assurance. Similarly in Australia there are eight states and territories with primary responsibility for school education, although since 2007 there has been more of a nationally consistent approach in the areas of national testing, national curriculum, professional teaching standards, teacher development, teacher appraisal and certification, and the accreditation of teacher education courses.

Thus, while some aspects of education and schooling in Australia have become ‘looser’, for example government funded independent schools, greater school autonomy, moving teacher education to schools, and a greater emphasis on ‘choice’ and the free market, some aspects have become more uniform, regulated and ‘tighter’ as a result of national agreements and developments.

In comparison, Germany does not have the same level of federal involvement in education as Australia, although there has been greater federal and Länder ‘soft’ cooperation since 2001 in areas such as aggregated national reporting on education, along with reporting on special issues such as diversity and inclusion, commissioning of international and national studies into certain priority areas and the collaborative formulation of national standards for students at three levels, although the adoption and utilisation of many of these initiatives has been optional and thus take-up has been varied across Länder.

While federal authorities in Germany provide funding to universities for initial teacher education, there is little federal involvement in continuing professional development for teachers, which is commonly regarded as the responsibility of Länder and schools.

A key difference between the countries is in the proportion of students attending government schools. In 2012, around 65 per cent of school age students in Australia attended government schools, a small proportion by world standards and one that is falling. In Germany, the proportion of students attending non-government schools is increasing slightly, but fewer than eight per cent of students in Germany attend such schools.

Another point of difference is that local government in Germany plays a more active role in school education than in Australia, with local government taking substantial responsibility for the provision and operation of schools, apart from teachers’ salaries. This involvement of local government extends beyond financing, however, with local elected officials and communities demonstrating a high degree of engagement with and ‘ownership’ of local schools.

In both Germany and Australia there is thus a lack of direct federal government influence and control over education, with a commensurate need to gain consensus among the states/Länder in order to implement uniform national policies, structures, programs, standards and change agendas.

A Critical Difference: ‘Tracking’ versus ‘Comprehensive’ schooling

The most significant difference between German and Australian schooling lies in the organisation of primary and particularly secondary schooling.

In Germany primary schooling (Grundschule) begins at age six and ends at the age of 10 (grade 4) after four years (except for Berlin and Brandenburg where students leave primary school at 12), whereas in Australia there are seven years of primary schooling – Western Australia and Queensland have adopted this structure in recent years – from the ages of five to 12, ending in grade 6.

Whilst comprehensive secondary education was progressively introduced in Australia from the mid-1950s, it is still rare in Germany. While comprehensive secondary school is an option in some places, it is not universal, meaning such schools are not truly comprehensive in the usual sense of the term.

Traditionally in Germany, entry to the secondary ‘tracks’ was determined by primary school staff after students’ completion of grade 4. More recently, parents in some cases now have a choice in (or try to influence) the type of school their child will attend. Some educators I have spoken with see this as a retrograde step, in that the decision has been taken out of teachers’ hands, with greater pressure now being exerted by ‘pushy’ and/or ‘middle class’ parents. In some communities, entry to the highest status and more sought after Gymnasium schools is through ballot.

German secondary education varies from Land to Land and regionally within Länder but typically there are now five major forms. The first three types are the traditional pathways or forms of secondary schooling in Germany. Although it is possible to change tracks, this is usually ‘downwards’ and not to a ‘higher’ track):

  1. Gymnasium (or grammar schools) – the most ‘academic’ schools, operate until grades 12 or 13 and enable those who meet the general standard for entry to university (Hochschulreife) and passing of the Arbitur examination to qualify for university entrance. (The Arbitur – a combined written and oral examination – guarantees admission to a university but not to a particular field of study.)
  2. Realschule – grades 5-10 with the Mittlere Reife exit exam and Realschulabschluss
  3. Hauptschule (Main School) – the least ‘academic’ stream usually ending in grade 9 (with the qualification of Hauptschulabschluss and in some cases Realschulabschluss after grade 10, and in the case of Mittelschule [grades 5-10] combining Hauptschule and Realschule in some Länder).
  4. Fachoberschule – vocational/technical school, [sometimes leading to a Berufsschule that offers academic study combined with an apprenticeship] with admission after grade 10 until grade 12 (or 13 in some cases), with the Arbitur available/obtained subject to certain conditions.
  5. Gesamtschule – grades 5-12 or 5-13 comprehensive/community school effectively combining the three main types of secondary school. The Arbitur is available/obtained subject to certain conditions.

An overall impression is that Germany has and continues to place great emphasis upon formal education and training. There is compulsory school attendance (Schulpflicht) from age 6 until 15 and home schooling is illegal. There is strong belief in the contribution effective public education makes to personal, social and national prosperity.

There are pathways to obtaining certificates, diplomas, degrees and other qualifications that are long established and well-known, including the highly regarded ‘dual system’ with industry. (As OECD explains it, “Germany’s dual education system … combines apprenticeships in a company and vocational education at a vocational school … In the company, the apprentice receives practical training which is supplemented by theoretical instruction in the vocational school. Around 60% of all young people learn a trade within the dual system of vocational education and training in Germany.”) Training for any occupation is usually lengthy with the payoffs being tenure, security, salary and status.

While Germany is prepared to invest in education and training, In Australia governments are moving away from supporting technical education through cutting funding to traditional technical and further education (‘TAFE’) colleges, encouraging alternative vocational education and training (VET) providers and importing skilled labour rather than training local people.

Two Different Approaches: The Roles of Regulation and Deregulation

While it could be argued that strong traditions and tight government regulations in education might hinder innovation and change in Germany, these can also act as a form of protection from international trends and forces and ensure that standards are not compromised. Whilst Australia is moving down the road of greater deregulation, there is strong resistance to this in Germany. As noted, federal agencies in Germany are relatively less influential in education than is the case in Australia and this might also act to protect the country as a whole from some of the fads and fashions that are becoming endemic in other countries such as the USA and England.

There is no context free recipe or model for educational success, however defined and measured. Australia is not Germany, nor Finland, Singapore or Shanghai for that matter. However Germany has been successful in lifting its performance at a time when Australia’s is in decline, and so there may well be lessons to be learned.

Conclusion

Whilst challenges remain for education in Germany and educators and officials express dissatisfaction with the current performance of schooling, there are impressive features that contrast with the current state of education in Australia.

Overall, the education sector in Germany is highly valued, well-supported financially, tightly regulated and stable, yet it has shown itself to be responsive, serious about and capable of reform.

Finally, the strong emphasis within German education on regulation, standards, evidence, reform and improvement appears preferable to the current situation in Australia where there seems to be a headlong rush to deregulate, dismantle and open (public but also private) education to market forces, without, or at times despite, available evidence, whilst overall performance and equity are declining.

The uncertain future of school funding in Australia

3843968-3x2-340x227In order to keep up with the education news in Australia, I check in periodically with Glenn Savage, Researcher and Lecturer in Education Policy, Melbourne Graduate School of Education at University of Melbourne.

“The past few weeks have seen some wild twists and turns in the politics of Australian school funding,” Savage stated in a recent post on The Conversation. Discussions in Australia have focused particularly a confidential paper developed by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet that was leaked to the press earlier this month. As Prime Minister Tony Abbott has indicated, the reforms suggested by the 2011 Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling may be abandoned. As these reforms aimed to address inequities in school funding, and had yet to be fully implemented, many are concerned that an alternative model would not adequately address the needs of disadvantaged students. The leaked “green paper” presented four funding reform options for consideration:

  1. States and territories becoming fully responsible for funding all schools;
  2. States and territories becoming fully responsible for funding all schools, with the federal government funding non-government schools;
  3. Commonwealth involvement in schools reduced, without “significant structural change”; or
  4. Federal government becoming “dominant funder of all schools.”

According to a recent article in The Sydney Morning Herald, under the fourth option the federal government would “adjust for student need and the ability of families to make a contribution.” Therefore, high-income families might end up paying fees to send their children to public schools. The has proved to be the most controversial of the four suggested models, as it purports to target disadvantaged schools while promoting parental choice, yet the fear is that it would result in “separate responsibility for service delivery and funding.” This new model contrasts with the Gonski Review, which stated: “It is important for the future of Australian schooling that the government sector continues to perform the role of a universal provider of high-quality education which is potentially open to all.”

The Gonski Review of Funding for Schooling, which was chaired by businessman David Gonski, built upon a watershed 1973 report known as the Karmel Report. The Karmel Report was produced by the Whitlam government and introduced the ongoing federal funding of schools, which was a departure at the time from the prior model in which state governments funded schools with only supplemental support from the federal government. The report was the first significant intervention in primary and secondary education on the basis of what Savage called a “comprehensive plan of goals and priorities rather than an ad hoc response to particular demands.” As Savage explained, it was a highly influential “moment in school funding because for the first time ever the government started funding schools.”

The Gonski Review, conducted in 2011, came about in response to concerns over increasingly inequitable school funding—despite the attention called to such inequities in the Karmel Report.

The Gonski Review called for what Savage called “a major overhaul in school funding, promoting a needs-based sector-blind model.” As Savage went on to explain, “there is a base amount, for students in primary and secondary schools, and there are ‘loadings’ on top for different groups – such as indigenous students and English Language Learners.”

Savage argues that there is a “common belief that the Gonski Report was just put into practice. That’s somewhat true….but they promised independent schools and Catholic schools that they wouldn’t lose any money under Gonski formula. To get it through parliament, they had to come up with a compromise to say no school would lose a dollar.” Due to political influence, the reforms were never implemented as intended.

Despite public outcry in favor of the Gonski reforms, the current Abbott administration has promised not to continue to fund the reforms suggested by the Gonski Review. “Everyone’s worried because it doesn’t look like Gonski will ever happen in the way it was supposed to,” said Savage, going on to point out the even larger concern that there is a “a complete lack of clarity about how schools will be funded in the future.”

Deirdre Faughey

For more information:

School funding again up for debate http://buff.ly/1MMKApN

Give a Gonski? Funding myths and politicking derail schools debate http://buff.ly/1MMKDlq

School funding report makes flawed case for full Gonski reforms | The Australian http://buff.ly/1KpoXyc

In wake of stalled Gonski Review is there a way forward on school funding? http://buff.ly/1MMKmyK

New data shows slump in public school funding http://buff.ly/1KppdNF

‘Gonksi is not dead’: NSW calls on Federal Government to commit to education reforms – ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) http://buff.ly/1MMKrme

 

Teacher collaboration and professional development around the world

Last month, at the American Educational Research Association Conference held in Chicago, I attended a presentation that offered multiple perspectives on the recent findings in the 2013 Teaching and Learning International Survey (TALIS) report. As the OECD explains, the TALIS report asks teachers and principals who they are, where they teach and how they feel about their work.

Linda Darling-Hammond focused on what the TALIS report can teach us about teachers in the United States. She explained that teachers in the U.S. have insufficient time for planning and collaboration during the school day, which means that they are often left to do this work alone at home. U.S. teachers report that they experience less helpful feedback (coming from principals more often than peers), and sporadic professional development. Yet, collaborative practices and self-efficacy were indicated as drivers of job satisfaction.

Andy Hargreaves argued that while collaboration can be important to job satisfaction, we need to develop a much deeper understanding of what effective collaboration looks like. He argued that we need to know more about why collaborative practices are not always embraced by teachers. As self-efficacy was also related to job satisfaction, Hargreaves suggested that we also think about collective efficacy—the belief that we have in what we can do together, not just alone. Further work needs to be done, he explained, to develop our understanding of when collaboration is useful, when it is simplistic, and when it takes the form of “contrived collegiality.”

With this attention to collaboration and professional development, I decided to conduct a scan of education news around the world to see what I could learn about how different countries are addressing the topic. This scan showed that countries are grappling with several issues, such as the quality, time, and funding for professional development.

In British Columbia, the government is proposing to create professional development standards. Education Minister Peter Fassbender views the establishment of such standards as an act that would put the teaching profession on par with other professions, such as the legal, accounting, or nursing professions. While teachers are currently required to attend professional development sessions, new legislation would determine what those session cover; however, Fassbender says there will be no increase in funding to support the new standards. Concerns have been raised about the privitization of professional development, and the lack of teacher input.

In Australia, ACT teachers have spent a year arguing that they need guaranteed time each week for professional development and collaboration. According to Union Secretary Glenn Fowler, “Teachers do not trust their employer to protect them from snow-balling workloads, and we say to the employer if there is no guaranteed and quarantined time made in the new agreement, we will never see it, and that time may continue to get stripped away from teachers.”

Meanwhile, teachers in Ireland oppose a plan for mandatory continuing professional development (CPD). While most Irish teachers place high value on CPD, a majority fear that “if compulsory, it would promote a ‘compliance mentality’ with minimal real engagement.”

New Zealand has established Communities of Schools as part of their Investing in Educational Success initiative. These schools will set their own achievement goals and will be funded to allow teachers the time to “work with and learn from each other, supported by new teaching and leadership roles.” While funding for these new positions is proving controversial, as one principal shared, “You have to change things. You can’t stay in your same structures, if you do you will end up with the same result: busy schools that are too busy to share.”

Larry Flanagan, general secretary of the Educational Institute of Scotland (EIS), has noticed how busy teachers in Scotland are as well, and called for a period of “consolidataion and calm.” Flanagan said teachers needed breathing space after the delivery of the Curriculum for Excellence (CfE) and new exams:”The last thing Scottish teachers need to hear at the moment is that the pace of change needs to be stepped up.” He called for additional resources and support for professional development.

Deirdre Faughey

Early childhood education and the economy

A scan of online news reports published in countries around the world over the past month found that current reports on the topic of early childhood education show a range of economic concerns. While the news in some countries focuses on early childhood education as it relates to childcare, others focus on the connection between education in the early years and economic development. For example, reports from China focus on education as one aspect of whole child development, and similarly, reports from Thailand, India, and Australia, emphasized that early childhood education can be a crucial factor in lifting individuals out of poverty. Other reports focus on the ways in which early childhood education can be an overall investment in a country’s future.

In a recent article, titled “Household income and preschool attendance in China,” Xin Gong, Di Xu, and Wen-Jui Ham, found a positive association between household income and preschool attendance in both rural and urban settings. By showing that household income is influential in determining which children access early childhood education, this article relates with findings presented in a recent report on early childhood development by UNICEF. The UNICEF report points out that “millions of children, especially the most marginalized, are excluded from school,” and finds that international funding for education is on the decline. Yet, according to an article in Want China TimesChina has increased spending on early childhood education, budgeting 50 billion yuan ($8 billion) for a three-year project to provide access to quality education.

Singapore presents the example of a country that, according to the World Bank, placed “education at the core of the nation’s development.” Yet, as an article in The Huffington Post explained, “early-childhood education is one of the few spots where Singapore is not yet a world leader.” However, in response to the 2012 Economist Intelligence Unit, which ranked Singapore’s early childhood education system 29th in the world, the government has “announced funding initiatives for subsidies for parents and childcare centers, new sources of scholarship money for teachers, and the creation of new preschools and kindergartens.”

In Australia, a Productivity Report on Childcare and Early Childhood Learning, released on February 20th, received a critical reception in the press because it did not recommend an increase in funding. Instead, the report recommended the simplification of a complicated system with the introduction of a single early learning subsidy. Geraldine Neylon, writing for The Conversation, called this a “missed opportunity” to build upon prior reforms that focused on teacher quality. In another commentary, published in The Sydney Morning Herald, Matt Wade emphasized that while the current system is due for an overhaul, an investment in early education would lead to greater economic gains for the entire country. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abbott has suggested policy reforms that would (similar to the report’s recommendations) make childcare more affordable and less regulated, noting in particular that such a move would potentially enable more women to join the workforce. As John Cherry, advocacy manager with the non-profit Goodstart Early Learning, explained in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald: “The number one reform objective is to make childcare more accessible and more affordable for low and middle income families….The number two objective is to continue to raise the quality of care so that children have a better start to their school education. The number three one is to make sure that vulnerable children are getting the support that they need. That costs money.”

Deirdre Faughey

Curriculum reform in Australia

In 2010, Australia established its first national curriculum: the Australian Curriculum. The Australian Curriculum has defined content and achievement standards for the entire country. After a staged process of development, it is now being implemented. Recently, this curriculum was reviewed for the first time by the Australian federal government. The review raised a number of concerns that have led federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne to announce he will work with advisors to make sure it is serving the needs of Australian students. Pyne has stated, however, that any changes to be made as a result of the review won’t be implemented until at least 2016, due to the difficulty of earning the support of states and territories.

To learn more about this curriculum reform and the context of reform in Australia, I spoke with Dr. Glenn Savage of the University of Melbourne. Dr. Savage, with Kate O’Connor, recently published an article in the Journal of Education Policy titled “National agendas in global times: curriculum reforms in Australia and the USA since the 1980s.” From his perspective, there may be similar driving forces for reform in the US and Australia, but the reforms themselves have been quite different.

Savage and O’Connor (2014) wanted to understand how curriculum reform in Australia and the US were playing out, given that both countries have federal systems and histories of state and local control over education. Their research identified three key historical phases in the development of curriculum, which are shared by both nations. The first is the late 1980s, when both countries developed national education goals for the first time. They see this phase as a shift towards thinking in national terms, but also as a precursor to the standards movement of the 1990s and the push towards nationalizing aspects of the curriculum. The second was in the 1990s, when both countries attempted to create national curriculums or frameworks. In both countries those efforts failed when the realities of actually having to put the reforms into practice came along. For example, in both countries there was strong pushback against the idea of moving towards a national approach. The third phase was when each country rejuvenated their national reform efforts as a result of global economic and social pressures in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Influences included the global PISA testing program, which put the performance of each country in a global perspective and helped put standards-based national reforms back on the agenda. 

While there have been common historical driving forces in both countries, Savage and O’Connor (2014) see current reforms as very distinct in scope and form. In the US, the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are voluntary national standards that focus on the areas of literacy and numeracy, whereas in Australia the national curriculum is more extensive and discipline-based. Savage and O’Connor (2014) argue that the distinctive nature of reform in each country can be explained to a large extent by four key differences in the ‘national policy space’ of each nation: 1) contrasting system diversity and complexity; 2) different roles and expectations of federal governments; 3) different forms of state-to-state intergovernmental cooperation; and 4) the contrasting involvement of non-government policy actors. The authors argue that the distinctive features of each system mean that each country provides different “conditions of possibility for reform” (Savage & O’Connor, 2014, p. 18). Their key argument is that while global flows of policy ideas and practices are powerful, these influences manifest differently in different national contexts. As such, reforms must be thought of as both national and global

Looking ahead, Savage identifies several issues that Australia will need to work through in relation to the curriculum.

First is the fall-out from the recent review of the curriculum. It is the first review of the curriculum and it has been heavily politicized. There are ideological arguments around it and it has raised questions about what a contemporary curriculum should look like. There is the possibility that the review could lead to the reshaping of certain elements of the Australian Curriculum.

Second is an ongoing debate about federalism and the role of state and tertiary governments in education. A Reform of the Federation White Paper, which was developed by a taskforce in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, was released in late October. The goal is to work out the appropriate division of responsibility between states and government. In contrast to the US, national intergovernmental organizations have long been essential to the Australian reform process and have the capability of bringing all of the states together with the federal government to consider a number of education-related issues.

Another issue Savage identified is that even though Australia now has a national curriculum, there are differences in how states interpret and enact the standards. Despite a common national framework, state-based inflections emerge. While this can be positive, in that it allows for tailoring to state-based needs and issues, it can also present problems of consistency, which is partly what the national curriculum set out to tackle in the first place. In one example, the state of Victoria has adopted a hybrid curriculum called “AusVELS” that takes some from the national Australian Curriculum, and some from the prior Victorian Essential Learning Standards.

Savage also said that since federation in 1901, there have been debates around the role of academic knowledge versus vocational knowledge and skills. From the early 1900s, for example, many Australian states tracked students into either high schools (academically-focused) or technical schools (vocationally-focused). In 1980s, most states eliminated tech schools and established a common, unified school system that aimed to provide all students with the opportunity to go to university. While this effort was intended to be a more inclusive model, it has also led to an increase in high school drop out rates. In order to address this, the pendulum has swung back and there are now proposals at Federal and State levels to return to a more vocational curriculum.

Finally, Savage said there are now debates about what a curriculum should look like for the future. Some argue that the curriculum should prioritize disciplinary knowledge, while others argue more for 21st century skills and competencies so that students are ready to participate in global workforce. There are huge tensions around this issue as many feel the skills focus is too short-sighted and too focused on what students should be able to do, rather than what they should know.

As Savage explained, the issues that Australia is grappling with at the moment are also educational issues that many countries across the globe are dealing with, illustrating the point that educational policies need to be recognized as simultaneously national and global in nature.

Deirdre Faughey

OECD measures financial literacy of students around the world

The OECD released the results of an exam that aimed to assess the financial literacy of students in Australia, Belgium (Flemish Community), Shanghai-China, Colombia, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, France, Israel, Italy, Latvia, New Zealand, Poland, Russia, Slovak Republic, Slovenia, Spain and the United States. As we have done with other OECD test results, we conducted a search of international news reports on the results of this exam by country. Note that aside from the deluge of results from US media sources, Australia and New Zealand were two countries that reported extensively on the results  – with the Australian headlines distinctly contradictory. In general, much of the reporting focused on the fact that the majority of teenagers in the world don’t know enough about financial issues. The OECD noted that, similar to results on other OECD tests, student performance tends to fall along class lines, with “more socio-economically advantaged students scor[ing] much higher than less-advantaged students on average across participating OECD countries and economies.”

We also spoke with Anand Marri, Vice president and Head of Economic Education at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Associate Professor at Teachers College Columbia University, about the results. He pointed out that the financial literacy of students likely reflects the financial literacy of teachers as well as other adults. Without a concerted effort to enable teachers to develop their financial literacy and to make financial literacy an explicit part of the curriculum, we should not expect many students to develop financial skills on their own. Yet in the United States, only 15 out of 50 states have graduation requirements related to personal literacy and the vast majority of social studies teachers have not taken more than one economics course. He also noted, as the OECD report pointed out, that financial literacy is highly correlated with performance in math and reading, but that it would be particularly interesting to know more about the teaching of financial literacy and the preparation of those who teach financial literacy in countries that score higher in financial literacy than their math and reading performance would predict (like Australia, the Czech Republic, Estonia, the Flemish Community of Belgium and New Zealand).

Australia 

Aus students lack financial literacy skills: OECD (www.ifa.com.au)

Disadvantaged youth have poor financial literacy – study (www.probonoaustralia.com.au)

Australian students get top marks for financial literacy (www.financialstandard.com.au)

Aussie teens show financial smarts (www.dailytelegraph.com.au)

Columbia

Columbian students last place Pisa financial literacy exam (www.colombiareports.co)

Central Eurpoe, Baltic countries:

Central European, Baltic Teens Score Well in OECD Financial Test (http://blogs.wsj.com)

Czech Republich

Czech teenagers rank sixth in international financial literacy survey (http://radio.cz/en)

Israel

Israeli teens get a failing grade for financial literacy (www.haaretz.com)

Italy

Italian teens can’t handle money: Report (www.thelocal.it)

Shanghai – China

Students in Shanghai score highest for financial literacy (Irish Times)  

Spain

Spanish 15-year-olds lack financial literacy proficiency (www.globalpost.com)

US

American Students score below average in financial literacy (www.forbes.com)

American teenagers outranked by Chinese in money smarts (www.cnn.com)

US Students fail to make the grade on financial literacy (www.time.com)

New Zealand  

Financial literacy depends on wealth (www.stuff.co.nz)

Pisa results shed the spotlight on financial literacy levels (http://www.scoop.co.nz)

Kiwi teens 5th best at managing money (www.3news.co.nz)

UK

Is the UK falling behind? OECD results underscore the importance of financial literacy for future growth (http://www.economicvoice.com)