Defending teachers


On Tuesday this week the ABC’s ‘The Drum’ had a great segment on education. One of my heroes, and a wonderful advocate for public education, Jane Caro spoke out against the expectations society puts on teachers, and the fact that we are human and subsequently, are partial to human flaws. She highlights that simply parroting about ‘quality teachers’ doesn’t do anything to actually improve learning outcomes.

You can view the whole episode here. I recommend watching from the 25:44 to see Jane on fire.

4 day school week?…

“What a difference a day makes: the argument for a four-day school week”


In this article from The Guardian Lucy Rycroft-Smith introduces the idea of a shorter school week, and references a recent study in Colorado where shorter school weeks, with longer days, were introduced.

I can’t see this happening any time soon, certainly not in Australia, but it could be an interesting discussion to have. Obviously there would be problems around care for children whose parents work a full 5-day week – as Rycroft-Smith mentions – but in terms of both teacher and student workload, and student engagement, perhaps there is some merit in discussing how the traditional school framework could be adjusted so the time is used more effectively.

The article seems to be mainly considering the possibility for primary aged students, however I think the discussion could be had for all ages. In many secondary schools, senior students often have an afternoon off one day a week, and although this is usually introduced for the purpose of study time, often students use the time to work, or spend time with friends, and therefore it’s not really very effective in terms of the intended purpose. However, perhaps senior students could be considered old enough to decide for themselves how they spend their time? Certainly less students in certain blocks of the week provides time for teachers to plan, collaborate, grade, and complete other tasks that often happen outside school hours.

I would certainly be open to consider how we could structure time in schools more effectively, although I think it would be a messy discussion when you consider how many different stakeholders would be involved; education departments, parents, students, teachers, unions etc.

Public vs Private & ‘value-adding’


Yesterday (June 2nd 2015) ‘Private, Catholic schools do add value to student results’ was published on The Conversation by Gary Marks, a professor at the University of Melbourne. It outlines his recent research which has found that so-called ‘private’ schools* do ‘add-value’ to students’ education, particularly when looking at ATAR scores for university entrance. The article is brief, and I found some of the more technical aspects of the discussion a bit confusing, but it is an interesting contribution to a debate that has been building momentum over the past two or three years. Namely, what are the educational benefits that come with paying large amounts of money to educate your child in a non-public school? The article is followed by lots of interesting comments that build in a great deal of complexity to the discussion.

It seems interesting to me that this research has come to a very different conclusion to other recent studies into this same issue. Personally, I am interested to know to what extent Marks’ study accounted for the fact that public schools tend to cater for a much broader range of students – from different backgrounds, with different educational ambitions – and the fact that it is fairly common practice for private schools to encourage lower-performing students to find somewhere else to complete their schooling. Both of these factors are likely to result in a higher average score in private school ATAR results. And if students are shifting from private to public schools before their final years of schooling at year 10, after the year 9 NAPLAN results, surely this will skew comparisons of how students progress from year 9 to year 12. Perhaps a longitudinal study of individual high-performing and ambitious students attending a range of different schools would provide a clearer comparison? I don’t know if this already exists… or perhaps I have misinterpreted aspects of Marks’ argument. It is interesting that in some of the later comments Marks responds that “my general conclusion is that the whole system is mainly driven by student ability with SES having a much less important role”– a very different emphasis to that suggested in the article and certainly in the title.

Also published yesterday in The Age was an article by David Zyngier, from Monash University; ‘Public schools’ good report card on value for money’. Zyngier suggests the reverse of Marks’ argument – that private schools do not significantly value-add. While Marks focused on ATAR scores, the research Zyngier discusses is focused on NAPLAN results.

Obviously this is a vexed issue with all schools invested in showing their families and the public that they are a good choice for students’ education. Increasing numbers of parents are sending their children to private schools, but with more and more research coming out that says public schools are offering an equal, if not better, education, is this trend likely to reverse? Or are the main reasons for choosing a private education less to do with educational benefits, and more to do with social benefits? What do you think about the ‘value-adding’ of private schools compared to private? Is any possible advantage worth the cost of a private education?

*I say ‘so-called’ because of the significant amount of public funding they receive