An Undesirable Outcome

Recently I wrote to my local member (who is also The Premier) to express my concerns at the cuts to education in New South Wales. In this email I had expressed my concerns about cuts to Independent school funding. While I teach in the Independent sector I am as much concerned about the whole sector than just my own obvious self interests.

Dear Mr O’Farrell,
Thank you for your reply to me regarding Government funding cuts to education. While we all recognise the need for good fiscal management the cutting of funding in the education sector is very counter productive.

My original concern was with the reduction of funding to Independent schools and the negative consequences of this impacting the Public Purse i.e. higher school fees = less affordability = greater demands on the Public system = more cost to Public Purse. Can’t see the logic in this. You can’t rely on the Independent sector holding their fees down when they have increasing costs.

Additionally I notice that you are making cuts to TAFE. One of my daughters attended TAFE and her education and preparation for the workplace was made possible through this organisation. This too is a destructive action. If the quality of TAFE courses or the possible preparation of young people for the workforce is compromised we will suffer the consequences via higher unemployment and a shortage of skilled workers.

The cutting of support staff in State / regional offices of the Dept etc is also counterproductive and ill advised. I say this because now is a particularly crucial time in education, in NSW, with the looming implementation of the National Curriculum. Clearly without adequate support and necessary leadership the big losers will be our children.

While we all know that the ALP State Government were poor fiscal managers it would be much worse to leave a legacy of a failed education system behind because fixing the results of that would be impossible.

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Journeying With Passion

Recently I have been taking the opportunity of broadening my exposure to other educators across the different sectors and spectrums of the education system. One of the great ways of doing this is through attending TeachMeets. TeachMeets are semi formal get-togethers of teachers to explore ideas and experiences. All participants are attending the TeachMeets by choice. Some are presenting and some are just listening. Meetings can take place anywhere and are held out of school hours. As a result they are hothouses for exchange and connection.

Teachers presenting are sharing things they are doing in their classrooms. Sometimes it might be a Secondary Maths teacher, at other times a Librarian, a Tertiary educator or a another Primary teacher. The range of experience is great. The richness of the experience lies in that great diversity. We are all educators, but often we are isolated and don’t see the bigger picture.

The last meeting I attended was on Tuesday. As usual there was a wealth of exchange. By way of example one teacher, in 7 minutes, was outlining how they were using three collaboration tools in their English classroom.

AnswerGarden http://t.co/pelsbGwx

TodaysMeet http://t.co/Tkyctak2

TitanPad http://t.co/uHho1mby

The possibilities that such collaboration, with other educators, opens us to are great. Sharing “Best Practice” and improving outcomes for students is driving the passion.

Teachers’ Voice

Recently I have been concerned by some of the negative commentary about teachers and teaching standards. What is most surprising is that the commentary comes often from people with little real knowledge of the profession. The public purse in Australia, and many other countries, is tied to education. As a result politicians, The Public Service and anybody who is a taxpayer may become intertwined in the conversation.

Australia isn’t the only country that has become disillusioned with their teachers and their schools. It seems to be occurring in the US and the UK at the same moment in time.

I think the introduction of Standardized Tests (NAPLAN) heralded a change here in Australia. I am still amazed that Australia decided to imitate this Bush led, US initiative. The idea of comparing schools via “My School” was an extension of the standardized testing and now teacher evaluation is added to the equation. All aim to put schools under the microscope. All are aimed at improving educational standards. All are copied from other “failing education systems”.

The worst aspect of this is that the education systems that we are choosing to emulate aren’t the leaders. For some reason we haven’t sought best practice. We haven’t looked toward leading countries in Scandinavia or other successful systems to learn from their successes. We haven’t sought our own solutions. We are simply behaving like the kid at the back of the class copying the answers from other “failing students”. How absurd is that?

While I refer to other “failing systems” I don’t believe they are failing. I don’t believe that teachers in general are not performing. Let’s not vilify great teachers via some flawed political instrument. We should be seeking to celebrate success and emulate it at local, systemic, national and international levels. Additionally if government is unhappy with the teacher product it should be investing in improving the Tertiary training of teachers and why aren’t we seeing major investment in comprehensive Inservice training programs? Why is government not investing in salary improvement so that they can attract the brightest and best more easily? Is government really concerned with the quality of teachers or is government merely seeking an expedient way to reduce costs by gaining greater productivity?

Governments are very good at influencing. They will conveniently select research which supports the idea of larger class sizes being insignificant and which points to teachers as being the weak link in student performance. Why? It is cost effective and diverts criticism from systemic issues. I am not suggesting that teachers aren’t very significant because they are crucial, but when other clearly influential factors are distorted in this way we get an incongruent result.

Unfortunately the decline in support for unions in recent times has meant that the voice of teachers has become muted to some extent. I have never been an advocate of industrial action, but unions can help to balance the conversation. Blogging and Tweeting are good avenues, but they lack a coherent focussed message. As I write I realize that I haven’t renewed my own membership to a union and that I am failing to contribute to the collective teachers’ voice.