PISA? Well, just in case:
See the Australian results at PISA Australia. Thanks to Rupert, here is a summary:
The Daily Terror opines rather than reports:
AUSTRALIAN teenagers’ reading and maths skills have fallen so far in a decade that nearly half lack basic maths skills and a third are practically illiterate.
The dumbing down of a generation of Australian teenagers is exposed in the latest global report card on 15-year-olds’ academic performance.
Migrant children trumped Australian-born kids while girls dragged down the national performance in maths, the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) report, released in Paris last night, reveals.
Australia’s maths performance dropped the equivalent of half a year of schooling between 2003 and 2012.
And rowdy classrooms and bullying are more common in Australia than overseas, the report
The meme is that it is all a disaster and we have slipped badly.
On the other hand, it really is all John Howard’s fault, according to Gareth Hutchens in today’s Herald.
Australians’ ability to read and write has continued to decline over the lifespan of the former Howard government’s school funding model, introduced in 2001.
The Abbott government pledged this week to honour the school spending commitments of the former Labor government for the next four years. The announcement went some way to ending the policy uncertainty that had been aroused by federal Education Minister Christopher Pyne last week, when he said he needed to go ”back to the drawing board” and develop his own school funding model because the former government’s model was ”a shambles”.
At the time, he said the former Howard government’s funding model, the socio-economic status (SES) model, would be a good place to start when designing a new system. But Mr Pyne later backed away from that comment and this week said he would fund the states according to the Gonski model.
The SES model has been controversial because it led to a large increase in the amount of federal funding going towards private and non-government schools.
Now figures from the recent Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) report show that model was unable to stop Australia’s decline in educational achievement…
Honestly, I am not entirely sure what it all means, or even how seriously we should take PISA’s testing. See also a series of posts by US education writer Diane Ravitch. For example:
In my recent book, Reign of Error, I quote extensively from a brilliant article by Keith Baker, called “Are International Tests Worth Anything?,” which was published by Phi Delta Kappan in October 2007. Baker, who worked for many years as a researcher at the U.S. Department of Education, had the ingenious idea to investigate what happened to the 12 nations that took the First International Mathematics test in 1964. He looked at the per capita gross domestic product of those nations and found that “the higher a nation’s test score 40 years ago, the worse its economic performance on this measure of national wealth–the opposite of what the Chicken Littles raising the alarm over the poor test scores of U.S. children claimed would happen.” He found no relationship between a nation’s economic productivity and its test scores. Nor did the test scores bear any relationship to quality of life or democratic institutions. And when it came to creativity, the U.S. “clobbered the world,” with more patents per million people than any other nation.
And I see Jennifer Buckingham of the Centre for Independent Studies – hardly a communist plot! – writes Don’t panic about PISA. Rather sensible, in fact.
Now let’s take one bit some in Australia will seize on.
That seems a gift for advocates of the private (“independent”) sector being superior to the government sector. Of course we should also note the text around the graphic. But then, what happens on another measure – the NSW Higher School Certificate results? Last year:
BATTLING public schools have returned amazing HSC results, leapfrogging many selective and private institutions on the top schools honour list for 2012.
Leading the charge are Willoughby Girls High School, Cherrybrook Technology High School, Mosman High School, Cheltenham Girls High School and Burwood Girls High School.
As more than 72,000 students received their HSC results yesterday, The Daily Telegraph analysed Board of Studies data on the 15,937 students named as distinguished achievers – scores of 90 or better – to reveal the top 200 schools in the state.
Government selective schools took the top eight spots on the list and James Ruse Agricultural High School posted the top academic performance with 780 mentions on the distinguished achievers honour roll.
Independents SCEGGS Darlinghurst and Sydney Grammar School round out the top 10, with students at each school scoring 90 or above in more than 40 per cent of their exams….
See also No need to blush – public schooling can be first step on road to success by Jennifer Star, 2012 NSW Young Australian of the Year.
Here I am ten years ago, give or take one or two. The links do not open in new windows and may indeed be dead, as this is OLD now. But familiar. Depressingly so.
Average performance on international tests.
Australian students failing to perform amongst the best performing countries in their maths and science tests, TIMMS and TIMMS-R,
the fact that successful countries, in TIMMS and TIMMS-R, achieve consistently high standards for all students, unlike Australia where there is a significant gap between the more able and the less able.
The top performing schools are, as Donnelly says, Singapore, Korea, Japan, Hong Kong,Netherlands and the Czech Republic. The New York Times found even more reason to do a Chicken Little than Donnelly does, as:
Four years after American fourth-grade students scored high on an international test of science and math, their performance declined markedly when they reached the eighth grade, a second survey shows…
The survey was based on the results of tests that 180,000 eighth- graders in 38 nations took last year. It showed American students, over all, performing worse in math and science than students in Singapore, Taiwan, Russia, Canada, Finland, Hungary, the Netherlands and Australia. They did better than students in some less industrialized nations, including Iran, Jordan, Chile, Indonesia, Macedonia and South Africa…
Funny that. Donnelly fails to mention we actually rank rather well.
It is also fair to say that some education systems have different priorities. In Australia, we have certain values that just might alter the balance of curriculum in favour of such things as critical thinking and creativity. Korea, for example, has been a country obsessed with rote learning and private coaching (kwawoe) — even the Cato Institute (which I am sure Dr Donnelly wets himself over) reports on the strange phenomenon, if with a degree of approval:
The spending frenzy on kwawoe started in the 1970s–during Korea’s economic boom–and immediately led to conflicts between the kwawoe-haves and the kwawoe-have-nots. In 1996, Korean parents spent $25 billion on private education–50 percent more than the government’s education budget. A Korean family today typically spends 15 to 30 percent of its budget on private education.
You can read more on my thoughts on coaching on this site.
Let us consider Singapore. Janet, one of my former Saturday coachees, remembered her early schooling in Singapore as being particularly dreadful. She feels the Australian system is much more balanced and, I would say, much more appropriate to a pluralistic open democratic country like Australia. Singapore resident Au Waipang would agree. On his excellent site, Yawning Bread, Waipang wrote in August 2001
“A thinking nation”. One of the many slogans we have to put up with as we go about our lives in orderly, efficient, well-planned, brook-no-opposition Singapore. If what I saw of a schoolboy’s history exercise is any indication, we’re a long, long way from that.
Last Thursday, I was in a fast food restaurant, nursing an orange juice waiting for a friend to show up. A bunch of schoolboys, about 14 years old, came to occupy the table next to mine. One went to the counter to get drinks for the group. The other three laid out their schoolbooks to do homework (If you don’t live in Singapore, you’ve really got to come see this local phenomenon). A minute or two later, the boy at the counter yelled for help ?something about not having enough money. The boy nearest me then put his exercise book on the bench inches from my hip, and went off to assist his friend.
I glanced at the open book and saw that it had about four printed questions on the page, with space underneath each question for the student to write in his answer. It took me merely 2 or 3 seconds to read the first two questions. It took me another whole minute before I could believe my eyes.
Melaka was known as the centre of Islam. Describe the 4 ways that Islam was spread to other parts of Southeast Asia.
In ancient times, people travelled for different reasons. What are the 3 reasons people travelled?
In those two questions, I could see much that was wrong with our education system! What are they teaching our young?
The questions have been phrased in such a way as to require a regurgitation of the history text. “Describe the 4 ways Islam was spread to other parts.” Why only four ways? Surely, there were innumerable ways by which Islam was propagated to the region; some more important than others. Schoolboys could have been asked to name as many ways as they could discover. They could have been asked to rate how effective some routes of transmission were over others. If the question had been phrased this way, the boys would have been encouraged to think hard and to try to understand the social and technological setting of the historical period in question. They would also be expected to justify their replies accordingly.
But to require that the schoolboys list and describe exactly four ways of transmission is to tell them that the best route to success in school is through memorising some lines of text from the history book and to spade them back as answers.
If a boy could come up with a fifth route of transmission and included it in his reply, would he risk a failing mark? Would he be penalised for thinking an original thought?
As if to prove that such a badly phrased question about the spread of Islam was not a one-off accident, the same fault ran through the second question. It asked what were the three reasons people travelled in ancient times. You mean, people travelled for only three reasons? Does any half-intelligent person believe that?
As I write this, I can think of 20. And I’m sure my list is not nearly exhaustive…
… Now, obviously, I would fail school history. I would be utterly unable to answer the question that called for exactly 3 reasons why people travelled in ancient times. Moreover, the question was not looking for any three reasons. It was looking for “the 3 reasons”. Undoubtedly, the smart strategy for the boy would be to regurgitate whatever the schoolbook said…
We’re not talking about 6-year-old kids here. We’re talking about fourteen-year-olds: teenagers who are perfectly capable of reasoning and discovering, who can very creatively make up excuses for not having done homework, skipping classes, or why they need more pocket money. If they can do that, they can surely take more challenging history questions.
Instead, they are taught to parrot. To look up the prescribed answers. To accept uncritically whatever some authority says, in this case, the textbook. In another case, it could be the preacher, the fashion pundit or the government.
* * * * *
It gets worse yet. When learning is presented as a process of looking up given answers, it leads to the idea that in life, answers are always to be had. And that, to each question, there are always right answers and wrong answers.
Anybody who knows anything about the nature of knowledge will tell you it is nothing like that. Knowledge is a marriage of information and assessment. Look deeply enough and everything is grainy and grey. You have to sift, and you have to weigh. And as more information comes up, you have to reconsider.
Knowledge is potentially infinite, and so learning cannot be but unending. We shouldn’t expect pat answers. We shouldn’t think that once those pat answers have been found, learning is done. It isn’t good preparation for life if that simplistic notion is what we instill.
I definitely could not have put that better myself! Thanks, Au Waipang!
I shared these entries in their original form with the Principal of the “Salt Mine”. On reading what Donnelly had to say about Australia’s performance in TIMMS and TIMMS-R, he said, rightly, “That’s simply not true!” Indeed.
Homework for my readers
Read Jesuit educationalist Christopher Gleeson (former Headmaster of St Ignatius Riverview and Xavier Colleges) on “values in education” as preparation for the next section on the “flight to private education.”
Christopher Gleeson’s piece is still online!
Here are some more of my moth-eaten old posts, sadly still relevant.
On that last one (2010) C Pyne is quoted thus:
Kerry, unfortunately Simon has come into this debate unprepared and without specifics, but I can tell you if a Coalition government is elected, we will expand the education tax rebate, we will introduce an education card for young people with disabilities, we will give principals more autonomy, we’ll pay the remaining billion dollars in the school hall stimulus fund to the schools directly, the government schools to self-manage the same as non-government schools and we’ll allow them to keep the savings. We’ll have a policy to deal with cyber-bullying, because cyber-bullying’s a big issue for families and for young people. We’ll support teachers in introducing the national curriculum. We’ll get social engineering out of the classrooms to allow teachers to do more teaching and we’ll give principals autonomy to make their own decisions in their school communities, because that is the biggest indicator of whether people will go on to higher education.
And “We’ll get social engineering out of the classrooms to allow teachers to do more teaching” is code for…? How does it square with the opposition’s own policy on cyber-bullying or even on students with disabilities? Aren’t they “social engineering”? I take it that one thing this is code for is so-called “left” agendas such as critical literacy.
A former colleague and retired Principal commented:
Oh dear, trotting out the ‘social engineering’ again. How bloody dreary.
As a Principal I found teachers to be a very conservative lot when it came to classroom practice. For example, it took me 3 years to convert the junior school from exercise books (very heavy in the backpack) to an A4 pad and folders maintained at home. 3 years to convert from a single school report sheet (difficult to coordinate for comments) to individual subject report sheets (which could be done at any time by individual teachers). Not to mention how long it took to get an alternative to 8 x 40 minute periods in the teaching day. If there is a more conservatively orientated group in the community than teachers, I’d like to know what it is.
I encountered no teacher who worked to a personal agenda of politicisation of anything.
Often the hard part was kick-starting an idea. The daily classroom routine was all-consuming. I used to welcome the occasional leftie simply because that person injected some life into staff thinking.
Leftie social engineering? Give me a break. In one way it would have been refreshing. Perhaps I should have encouraged it.
More posts. Excuse the smell of mothballs!
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great Argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out of the same Door as in I went.
— Omar Khayyam
For another take on such matters, see Peter Job (2012), ‘Teacher quality’ and the myth of educational failure.
The last decade has seen an increasing politicisation of education, with ill-informed calls for ‘back to basics’ and the introduction of poor pedagogical practices, such as full cohort testing, which discourage rich learning and disempower teachers.
It is ironic that many of these so-called reforms – national testing, the publication of school test results, proposals for performance pay – not only run contradictory to a great deal of academic evidence, but are based on practices of countries which achieve well below us on the international measures.
Not only have the voices of teachers not been heeded in these debates, but teachers have too often been depicted as part of the problem, as underperforming obstacles to change rather than professionals with expertise to be respected and listened to.
Any quality education system must be dynamic, responsive to new challenges, aware of shortcomings and open to reform. There is a great need for an informed education debate concerning pathways forward. But it must be intelligent debate geared to quality reform; based in realities rather than populist mythologies; built upon past achievements as well as issues of concern.
Australian teachers, with their proven track record of achievement, must be central to these discussions, recognised for the expertise and professionalism they have so clearly demonstrated.
But what would he know? He is just an English teacher in a state school! See also his Why use a failed model for school tests?
Update 6-7 December
Look at China’s supposed top world education ranking is designed to deceive.
1) Do we know ALL schools in Shanghai took these exams? Especially the schools created for a populated 100% by the children of migrant workers? I doubt very much these schools took part in the PISA exams.
2) Shanghai school quality cannot be compared to that of the Chinese countryside where the vast majority of Children still reside in China. (This assumes that Tier 3 cities and smaller are in reality rural areas versus urban areas). These schools in the countryside lack qualified teachers and are far behind in using technology in the classrooms. In fact only 40 of rural students attend high school, versus more than 80% in urban areas.
Compare Philip Wen in Saturday’s Sydney Morning Herald: Social and demographic factors help Shanghai students hit fast lane for academic success.
At one end of the spectrum, at the historic Shanghai Middle School, an exclusive state-owned boarding school, more than 4 million yuan (about $725,045) has just been spent on six new machines for its suite of university-grade science laboratories. In its sprawling grounds the school has its own museum, performing arts centre, and a sports centre complete with regulation-size football field, tennis courts and swimming pool.
Zhang Jianhua, the deputy director of academic affairs at Shanghai Middle School, said top Chinese schools had long moved on from the stereotypes of dictatorial rote learning. Her school, she said, was all about giving students the best facilities in order for them to find their passion and nurture their talent.
On top of the core maths, science and humanities subjects, students are given a mind-boggling choice of more than 100 elective classes, including digital photography, music production, robotics and anti-terrorism.
More at home with those familiar with a misspent youth were a classroom full of driving simulators that seemed more NASCAR than PISA.
“It teaches students how to follow driving rules and prepares them for when they take their driving tests,” Ms Zhang says, seemingly ignoring that most of the simulators were zipping along at 130km/h.
Tong Xiaoxi, a professor at the Agricultural University of China, said the test results only served to highlight the disparity of education standards in poorer parts of China, with many schools struggling to provide basic heating and to find qualified teachers.
Many schools on the outskirts of Shanghai, which cater for the children of itinerant migrant workers unable to access government-funded schools, still rely heavily on a volunteer workforce…
Update 10 December
See Sorry, Michelle Rhee, But Our Obsession With Testing Kids is All About Money.