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John Passant

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February 2010



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My interview Razor Sharp 18 February
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp on Tuesday 18 February. (0)

My interview Razor Sharp 11 February 2014
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace on Razor Sharp this morning. The Royal Commission, car industry and age of entitlement get a lot of the coverage. (0)

Razor Sharp 4 February 2014
Me on 4 February 2014 on Razor Sharp with Sharon Firebrace. (0)

Time for a House Un-Australian Activities Committee?
Tony Abbott thinks the Australian Broadcasting Corporation is Un-Australian. I am looking forward to his government setting up the House Un-Australian Activities Committee. (1)

Make Gina Rinehart work for her dole

Sick kids and paying upfront


Save Medicare

Demonstrate in defence of Medicare at Sydney Town Hall 1 pm Saturday 4 January (0)

Me on Razor Sharp this morning
Me interviewed by Sharon Firebrace this morning for Razor Sharp. It happens every Tuesday. (0)

I am not surprised
I think we are being unfair to this Abbott ‘no surprises’ Government. I am not surprised. (0)

Send Barnaby to Indonesia
It is a pity that Barnaby Joyce, a man of tact, diplomacy, nuance and subtlety, isn’t going to Indonesia to fix things up. I know I am disappointed that Barnaby is missing out on this great opportunity, and I am sure the Indonesians feel the same way. [Sarcasm alert.] (0)



Teachers’ union is right to oppose school league tables

On January 28 the My School website was launched with great fanfare – but in the face of strident opposition from teacher and parent organisations. They are rightly concerned that the information published there will inevitably be used to construct “league tables” that will “name and shame” many schools – especially those in the underfunded government sector – branding them as underachievers or failures.

And in fact that’s just what some media outlets, such as Melbourne’s Herald-Sun, have already done. The way the website is designed and presented can only facilitate this. The most prominent item on any school’s page is its results in the National Assessment Program for Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests.
The idea is that parents can compare the results from different schools, and this is supposed to “empower” them to make informed choices about their children’s education – as if working class parents have much choice about where to send their children anyway, given that they can’t afford private school fees and many state schools are residentially zoned. Publication of the NAPLAN results is also supposed to act as a spur for schools to “raise their standards”.
In reality the website will be used as a weapon to beat up on teachers (as lazy and/or incompetent) and as a cover for the continuing failure of governments, state and federal, to adequately fund and resource public schools – especially those in working class areas. Certainly this has been the experience in Britain and the US.
Save Our Schools notes in a recent press release that:
“Many former advocates of publishing school results are now opposed because of the damage it does to education. Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George Bush Snr., says that [Federal education minister] Gillard’s much admired New York City school reporting system is ‘inherently unreliable’, produces ‘phoney results’ and amounts to ‘institutionalized lying’”.
And even Kevin Donnelly, a former Howard government advisor on education, admits that school reporting of this kind in Britain and the US has failed to raise standards.
Gillard however, has ignored all the evidence, as well as protests from a wide range of teacher and parent organisations. And although she says she is opposed to league tables, she has taken no steps to stop their publication, despite the results of a survey by Labor pollster UMR late last year in which 63 per cent of parents supported laws banning league tables.
The NAPLAN tests are conducted annually for students in Years 3, 5, 7 and 9 and provide a very limited snapshot of student literacy and numeracy, with no context. Factors such as socio-economic disadvantage, levels of school funding, the number of non-English-speaking students and so on are not taken into account. The emphasis on the results of this kind of standardised testing has the inevitable effect of turning schools into test preparation factories. As Save Our Schools has pointed out,
“All the overseas experience with league tables shows that they narrow children’s learning. Schools respond to the pressure to lift league table rankings by devoting more time to literacy and numeracy at the expense of science, history, languages, arts and music… Weeks and months come to be devoted to preparing for tests at the expense of the rest of the curriculum.”
Government schools, especially those in working class areas, will come under the most pressure. Working class children are considered by employers and the state to be nothing but factory or office fodder, after all, so as long as they can read and write and follow the boss’s orders, why do they need a broader education?
Gillard says the test results must be published in the name of “transparency” and “accountability”. But as Australian Education Union (AEU) federal president Angelo Gavrielatos says, “We don’t need league tables to work out which schools are struggling and need extra resources. Governments already have that information.” They’re just not doing anything about it. While many state schools struggle to provide the most basic amenities and facilities, the federal government pours millions every year into elite private schools.
But you won’t find this crucial information about the enormous disparity in funding between schools, and the resources to which they have access, on the My School website. (Gillard says it will be provided later, but even if it is, much of the damage will already have been done.)
At its national conference in January, the AEU resolved to call on members to boycott the administration of this year’s NAPLAN tests, due to be held in May, if its concerns about league tables have not been resolved. In response, Gillard (who, let’s remember, is from the Labor left) indicated that she would be happy to see scabs administering the tests.
So the scene is set for a confrontation. The AEU executive will meet on 12 April to decide whether the boycott will go ahead. In the meantime, every teacher unionist needs to familiarise themselves with the arguments against league tables and discuss the issue in their sub-branches and wider school communities, so that we are ready to act when the time comes.
For more information:
Tess Lee Ack is an AEU sub-branch representative. This article first appeared in Socialist Alternative.



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Time February 5, 2010 at 1:30 am

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Comment from jack
Time February 6, 2010 at 12:19 pm

oppose school league tables = support the dumbing down of our children

Comment from Nick
Time February 6, 2010 at 3:06 pm

It’s not true that “[factors] such as socio-economic disadvantage, levels of school funding, the number of non-English-speaking students and so on are not taken into account.”

They are, if not in NAPLAN itself then on the My Schools website. The “Index of Socio-Educational Advantage” (ISCEA) assigns each school a value based on just those characteristics. The NAPLAN results of a school are compared to those of schools with similar ISCEA values.

Of course, the method of determining ISCEA is deeply flawed, based on the socio-economic characteristics of geographic districts rather than the students who actually attend a given school. So it unfairly favours select-entry or wealthy private schools that draw students from a wide geographic range.

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