Stop bashing public education for the tsunami effect will be big and long lasting.

tsnumai sign

I took this photo while on Phi Phi Island where a real tsunami took place.

I’m indebted to Greg Whitby for provoking me to write this post when he wrote on a quality education for all.

Greg, I think was stirred by Prof Dinham when he recently wrote in the Age newspaper about what he perceived as a relentless attack on schooling (and particularly public schooling) and teacher pre-service education. He saw a continuing free market solution with multiple sticks and carrots solutions to fix what must be a failing public system (based on international test results like PISA) as the achievement gap between usually disadvantaged students and others is growing.

Prof Dinham also decried the retro view that pre-service education is like an apprenticeship best served in schools saying this would widen the gap between theory and practice and perpetuate the cycle of teachers teaching as they were taught.

Finally Prof Dinham likened this attack to a tsunami where a long wave of ill-founded change that ignored research and would lead to total destruction as happened on Phi Phi Island in Thailand

Well Greg I’ll join you in voicing my strong opinion to stop this attack on public education, teachers and universities. The Washington Post featured an article by Arne Duncan, the US secretary of Education, talking about this same achievement gap. He looked at two areas where the test scores bucked the national trend and went on to say these states

“ensured that teachers could use good data from multiple sources to identify learning gaps and improve instruction.”

While I agree with this strategy his premise on why schools are failing was again based on the Pisa results.

Firstly let me say that research by people like Dr George Otero and others suggest that schools have about a 30% overall effect on a person’s success and life opportunities. The person themselves has about 50% with about 20% attributed to family and other factors. So this is about changing the school’s contract with the community (this includes governments and parents) by saying our task is to help a family educate their child. This doesn’t say we neglect our role in helping people meet this success. It means that we need to look beyond just schools for a more coordinated approach to promoting this success for all.

Secondly a growing group of educators that include Yong Zhao are asking serious questions about the effects of Pisa on education in many of the countries who rank highly on the test. He questions how community (include parents here) and authoritarian structures in places like Shanghai and Hong Kong continue to place pressure on students to score well on these tests. Do we really want to be like them?

An interesting article in the Washington Post  by Kelly Yang talked about this pressure

“A 2011 survey estimated that 72 percent of Hong Kong high school students receive tutoring outside of school, often until late in the evening. So when our schools get out, the school day is just beginning for most kids.”

So success on test taking (not education) might not lead to increased life opportunities and again interesting data from South China Morning Post newspaper headed:

“Study: One in four Chinese students drop out of Ivy League schools”

I think the last word on replicating China to achieve similar results on Pisa is best left to Yong Zhao

The exams can be gamed, and have often been. Teachers guess possible items, companies sell answers and wireless cheating devices to students[1], and students engage in all sorts of elaborate cheating. In 2013, a riot broke because a group of students in the Hubei Province were stopped from executing the cheating scheme their parents purchased to ease their college entrance exam[2]. “An angry mob of more than 2,000 people had gathered to vent its rage, smashing cars and chanting: ‘We want fairness. There is no fairness if you do not let us cheat,’” read the story in the U.K.-based newspaper The Telegraph.

Tucker’s assertion, that “because the exams are of very high quality, they cannot be ‘test prepped,’” is completely untrue. Chinese schools exist to test prep. Every class, every teacher, every school is about preparing for the exams. In most schools, the last year of high school is reserved exclusively for test preparation. No new content is taught. All students do, the entire year, is take practice tests and learn test-taking skills. Good schools often help the students exhaust all possible ways specific content might show up in an exam. Schools that have earned a reputation for preparing students for college exams have published their practice test papers and made a fortune. A large proportion of publications for children in China are practice test papers.

Last, and I say last because the post is getting quite long, is that we know from research lots of what to do to improve learning in schools – collect data to find learning gaps and improve instruction, providing quality feedback to teachers, focusing our efforts on strategies that work (Hattie’s work), sustaining this improvement work over time (years), ensuring the parents are informed and seeking where possible their support, building learning communities for all that are based on relational trust and shared norm and values. working to build relationships with students and amongst their peers. Not bad for a short list. We also know lots of barriers as well increasing expectations of community (parents and governments). Some of this can be fixed by increased financial resources (in my case more support staff to take some of the managerial expectations from my leadership team), some by increased community trust and support of teachers (we in Australia are some of the biggest knockers sometimes to our detriment) and some by sharing the teaching load with parents (after all we help them to educate their children – e.g cyber bullying from the home, respectful conversations at the table, finding space and time for young people to complete their homework, family outings to places and exhibits of interest and the list goes on).

Well Greg I’m stopping my rant and left the pre service education argument alone but others may want to start theirs.