I don’t believe it!

When I read Kevin Donnelly in today’s SMH I did several Victor Meldrews! Clearly we are already reading here the outcome of the so-called curriculum inquiry – so why waste all that time and money, and all those to-be-filed-in-the-bin submissions?

Increasingly, across the English-speaking world for example, the consensus is that phonics and phonemic awareness are a critical part of teaching young children how to read. The research also suggests, especially in the early years, that automaticity, involving memorisation and rote learning, are important elements in allowing children to go on to higher order, more creative learning.

Ethnographic research examining Asian classrooms also suggests that lessons need to be highly structured, where students have a clear understanding of what is expected, and what constitutes success or failure, and there is adequate time for interaction and feedback.

Teachers in countries such as Singapore and Hong Kong also have the time and resources to mentor one another, to work collaboratively, and are highly respected by parents and students.

It is also important to evaluate whether Australia’s national curriculum is balanced and objective.

As suggested by Pyne, the fact that the national curriculum stipulates that every subject must be interpreted through a prism involving indigenous, Asian and sustainability perspectives needs to be revisited.

While there is no doubt that Australia is geographically a part of Asia, that sustainability is a significant and continuing issue, and that giving the curriculum an indigenous perspective is important, there are other equally important things to consider.

Australia is a liberal, democratic nation, and our political and legal institutions, and way of life owe much to Western civilisation. As such, it is important that students have a sound understanding and appreciation of the values, beliefs and institutions that enable Australia to be such a peaceful, tolerant and open society.

Rather nails the colours to the mast, doesn’t it?  And will no doubt prove 100% predictive of what gets tabled in March-July 2014. Probably explains how all that reviewing – or should we say filtering – can be done so quickly.

Let me remind you of a few things. First, from as conservative a source as you can imagine, The Centre for Independent Studies, comes an admirable argument on the limits of international testing and comparisons: Keeping PISA in Perspective:  Why Australian Education Policy Should Not Be Driven by International Test Results (PDF)  by Jennifer Buckingham. I alluded to it and a companion piece on The Drum in my December 2013 post PISA is out and the maddies are having so much fun!

Second: some moth-eaten posts of my own.

Literacy controversies

07 DEC 2007

When you have been teaching as long as I have, and all up that’s over forty years, you should become immune to recurrent panics, usually political, media-driven, or coming from “educationists” with an axe to grind. But you don’t…

The latest tea-leaf reading and teeth-gnashing has followed the publication of the PISA Report 2007 (PDF). I posted on that here. Recently too we’ve had the Australian Adult Literacy and Life Skills Survey 2.

However, there are, as always, many reasons to think about how we teachers could do better. Young People Seen Losing Love of Reading by Kathleen Kennedy Manzo appeared in the November 19 edition of the US online magazine Teacher Week.

American youths are reading less in their free time than a generation ago, a statistic that bodes poorly for their academic performance, job prospects, civic participation, and even social well-being, a report by the National Endowment for the Arts says.

Increasing use of electronic media is largely to blame for a decline in pleasure reading among young people, says the report, released today. But the failure of schools to instill a love of reading is also a contributing factor, according to endowment Chairman Dana Gioia.

“The study shows that reading is endangered at the moment in the United States, especially among younger Americans … and not merely the frequency of reading, but the ability to read as well,” Mr. Gioia said in a telephone conference call with reporters before the report’s release. The emphasis in many schools on bolstering reading skills and preparing students for tests, he added, is insufficient for nurturing an appreciation of reading.

“This functional approach to reading,” he said, “is not adequate to instill a lifelong love of the subject.”

In a subsequent online ideas exchange a number of US teachers made suggestions, many of them similar to ideas you might hear in staff rooms or at conferences here in Australia. (By the way, in all those international comparisons, whatever it is they measure, Australia still outperforms the USA in literacy.) For example:…

Here we go again 2

06 DEC 2007

Repetition is no guarantee of truth, so when you read yet again here, here, and here:

One only needs to look at the parlous quality of state and territory curriculum to know where the true explanation lies for falling standards. Literature, especially classic texts, is no longer pre-eminent as students are asked to deconstruct SMS messages, graffiti and movie posters. Across Australia, many students are able to complete Year 12 English without ever reading a substantive novel or play.


Professional associations such as the Australian Association for the Teaching of English, faculties of teacher education and the Australian Education Union are also to blame for students under-performing. Not only have such groups forced a dumbed-down approach to curriculum on schools, but their argument that standards will only improve if more money is spent, based on overseas research, is wrong.


What can be done to raise standards? The question is more than academic, given Labor’s promise to address falling standards and develop more effective curriculums. Identifying the characteristics of better-performing education systems provides one avenue to strengthen our system(s). Countries that outperform Australia emphasise competitive external examinations; the curriculum is academic-based and there is a greater emphasis on effective classroom practice; students are streamed in terms of ability; and there is a differentiated curriculum, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach.


Ms Bishop said teacher unions and professional associations had some responsibility for falling educational standards. “Over the past 20 years, the influence of the education unions on school curriculum has led to the embrace of fads and political agendas rather than on the core skills of literacy and numeracy,” she said.

You could really scream, having read such things for the past thirty or forty years. There is nothing about the OECD’s latest results in the Program for International Student Assessment of 15-year-olds in 57 countries that would make me want to change one thing in What is literacy? or Why I reject Kevin Donnelly’s educational analysis or in any of the posts tagged “education” or “literacy” or “English studies” that pepper my various blogs…


Finland, Phonics, and Whole Language: Beginning Reading in a Regular Letter-Sound Correspondence Language.

Korkeamaki, Riitta-Liisa; Dreher, Mariam Jean

Language Arts, v70 n6 p475-82 Oct 1993

Reviews the typical approach (synthetic phonics) to teaching reading in Finland. Suggests that teachers in English-speaking countries can learn from problems Finnish teachers face and vice versa. Finds that, despite a highly regular writing system, Finnish teachers find that a heavy phonics emphasis does not solve their reading instruction problems. (RS)

Back to the present

See also Sharon Beder, The wrong men behind curriculum review.  I also attach yesterday’s Open Letter to Education Minister Christopher Pyne.  There are quite a few names there that I have known or known of. It is an impressive list, but sadly I suspect it is written on water.

This is an Inquiry of the most Yes Minister kind. After all, since the government apparently has a magic expandable mandate to do what it damned well pleases, you can be sure that is exactly what it will do.

In fact, paradoxically, government is more open when it is less open. Open government is rather like the live theatre: the audience gets a performance. And it gives a response. But, like the theatre, in order to have something to show openly there must first be much hidden activity. And all sorts of things have to be cut or altered in rehearsals, and not shown to the public until you have got them right. (The Complete Yes Minister, p. 103)

I hadn’t planned to post again on this topic today. Fear not, I will now hold my peace for a while.

Read Open Letter to C Pyne