Class act: ending the education wars – Maxine McKew

I’ve given a voice to the many teachers in schools who are experts at what they do and every day find ways to challenge and stretch young Australian minds

Maxine McKew

9780522866575McKew’s book contains nothing new. That is not so much a criticism of the book but of governments of both stripes who have not heeded the recommendations coming from leading Australian researchers in education. Suggestions that the Gonski ‘needs based’ funding be adopted, that Hattie’s Visible Learning precepts be integrated into all schools and equipping school leaders to direct resources for best student outcomes, have been written about at length elsewhere. Her writing style makes the material very accessible and her public profile will perhaps attract some readers who are not well versed in the topic.

The book is available through Melbourne University Press.

A few quotes that I will be reflecting further upon are reproduced below. They are not my own work – please attribute them to the original author.

[E]xperts possess knowledge that is more integrated, in that they combine the introduction of new subject knowledge with students’ prior knowledge; they can relate current lesson content to other subjects in the curriculum; and they make lessons uniquely their own by changing, combining, and adding to the lessons according to their students’ needs and their own teaching goals.

John Hattie quoted on 3

But Australia’s scores in international literacy tests aren’t dropping because the students who sit those tests don’t know their sounds. They are performing poorly because they cannot comprehend what they are reading. They have poor vocabularies and cannot follow sentences that employ more complex language structures. They cannot read between the lines.

Our low-achieving students – both on international measures and the home grown National Assessment Program, Literacy and Numeracy (NAPLAN) tests – share one, very telling, common characteristic. They don’t speak “school English”, or Standard Australian English, at home. They may speak a language other than English, or Aboriginal English, or a creole, or “bogan” English – the kind where words like “youse” feature.

Misty Adoniou quoted on 20-21 (read the original piece online here)

Nowadays, families just like [the many migrant families before them], in search of a more settled life and their own piece of Australian magic arrive from across the globe—from the Subcontinent, from north and south Asia, and from Africa. But the children of these new migrant groups are entering a vastly different Australian schooling system. Long gone is the suburban public high school that once brought together the sons and daughters of just about everyone—where the kids of doctors and dentists rubbed up against the offspring of tradesmen and shopkeepers. There is a remnant of this social diversity left in the primary sector, but by high school the divide is acute. The best and brightest (and those who max out on private tutoring) head for the country’s selective high schools. The professional classes opt for high-fee independent schools or the more prestigious of the Catholic schools while trade- and commerce-based families increasingly enrol
in the newer, low-fee, faith-based schools.

That leaves [public] schools…to cater for the rest: the children of low-income or public housing dependant families, urban Indigenous people, and newly arrived refugees.

50-51

What to do?

1. Invest in the training and capabilities of school leaders so that they are operationally proficient and know how to motivate and direct resources towards teachers who are constantly improving their knowledge and skills.
2. Adopt as a standard across the system, and especially in teacher education academies, the key elements of John
Hattie’s Visible Learning approach. Know thy impact should be on the wall of every staffroom in every school across the country.
3. Go for quality…[get] rid of dumbed-down electives. Show students you care enough to make the material intellectually demanding and watch them take off.
4. Listen to the voices of students. They know when they are being short-changed by teachers who are ill-prepared or by schools that are cruising.
5. Create an environment that enables more government schools to develop strategic partnerships with business groups and philanthropic organisations.
6. [Fully adopt] the Gonski funding model [and direct] resources to where the need is greatest.

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