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.

Single-sex schooling

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This article by Anna Dabrowski was published on The Conversation on July 15 and questions whether there is a place for single-sex schools in the modern educational landscape. It’s fairly brief, but refers to a number of studies that have found no difference in educational outcomes for students when they are separated by gender, and highlights some of the possibly damaging effects of segregation according to gender, particularly as our understanding of gender has developed, recognising it is not necessarily a male/female binary.

Personally, I have never been a supporter of single-sex schooling, it seems inherently counter-intuitive to me. I attended a co-education school and feel that my experiences of interacting with male students, and having to hold my own against them, has definitely prepared me for interactions with males as an adult. The reality is, females are often given less respect and precedence in work places, we often are expected to ‘prove ourselves’ in ways male colleagues don’t have to, and i think this is exacerbated by failing to expose students to these gendered interactions from an early age. Anecdotally, (and I know a lot of people will argue strongly against this – there are a whole range of experiences) I think a lot of females who went to all-girl schools tend to be surprised by how hard they have to fight to be heard when in gender-blended, and often male-dominated work environments, and males from boys schools often assume it to be their right and privilege to be heard first, having been given that opportunity for so many years.

In life we don’t interact in solely male/female spaces, and when considering school as preparation for life, I think that all students interacting and working together makes sense.

Public vs Private & ‘value-adding’

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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

Making Time for Great Teaching

http://grattan.edu.au/wp-content/uploads/2014/03/808-making-time-for-great-teaching.pdf

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A report from by Dr Ben Jensen from the Grattan Institute, an “independent think tank dedicated to developing high quality public policy for Australia’s future”. This report looks into how schools can provide teachers with more time, so that they are more able to develop skills and improve their teaching practice. The report makes the case that loading teachers with additional duties or expectations not directly related to teaching, such as yard duty supervision, extra-curricular activities, ineffective professional development and staff meetings results in less time available to teachers to improve their practice and provide the best educational opportunities for students. The report states that “we must be explicit that every time we ask teachers to perform extra activities we are decreasing the quality of teaching and learning in schools”.

I think this is an interesting premise, and it is true that teachers are given a number of extra responsibilities that are not necessarily related to improving teaching and learning in schools. However, I do believe strongly in the value of extra-curricular activities (one example of extra expectations of teachers addressed in the report) as part of a balanced educational experience, and also as an opportunity to develop relationships, two things which I think do contribute to improved educational outcomes.

With all aspects of what we do in schools it is important to stop and ask “how is this improving outcomes for the students?”

For more information about Grattan Institute visit http://grattan.edu.au.