The Gonski Report: Allowing Teachers to Teach (Pt. 1)
The Australian government has been stirred into action by the Gonski Report, but are the moves they propose going to benefit the National Education System?
The Gonski Report looks at recommendations for the future funding of education in Australian schools. Most of the recommendations have to do with the politics of funding and the need for more investment in staffing and facilities, but perhaps a more significant statement is the one paraphrased here. “The panel accepts that resources alone will not be sufficient to fully address Australia’s schooling challenges and achieve a high-quality, internationally respected schooling system. The new funding arrangements must be accompanied by continued and renewed efforts to strengthen and reform Australia’s schooling system." Our schools need $5 billion. Will they get it? As a result of the Gonski Report the Australian government is about to throw lots of money at the perceived problems in the Australian education system. If the money goes towards more teacher training or infrastructure, then the real problems may be left unaddressed.
Bad Apples in the Barrel?
Jennifer Buckingham, an educational analyst, states in a report for the Sydney Morning Herald on why parents are choosing independent schools over public schools that "The most recent survey does not elucidate the reasons parents had for preferring independent schools, but others over the past decade reveal that ''traditional values'' are the strongest factors. This includes schools' disciplinary climates as well as moral and religious values." Anecdotal evidence also suggests that parents disillusioned with the public education system in NSW (Australia) are not as concerned with the quality of teaching and/or facilities available in the public system as they are with the classroom milieu that their children will be subject to. Their concern probably doesn't extend to believing the idiom that one bad apple makes the whole barrel rotten, but it doesn't have to. No parent wants to put a child of theirs in a situation of risk to their physical and mental wellbeing or to their intellectual development. The latter appears to be the main reason for the trend towards private rather than public education. There is a perception amongst parents that there are fewer bad apples in the private system simply because it's easier to throw them out as soon as the rot begins and consequently, in private schools, teachers are free to teach and students freely to buy essays cheap without disruption. There is no suggestion here that simply removing students from the system is a valid answer to the problem but neither is providing better equipped classrooms or more highly qualified teachers, whatever that means in real terms.
In a report from ABC TV Gary Marks, from the Australian Council for Educational Research, argues that the strong performance of Catholic schools “cannot be attributed to socioeconomic background” and that students do well because of high levels of “parental and community involvement” with “higher standards of discipline and greater emphasis on academic performance”.
When I was a high school student decisions about appropriate and inappropriate conduct in class were the sole responsibility of the classroom teacher. If an offense was deemed sufficient to warrant it, according to the 'professional judgement' of the teacher, the offending student was sent to the head teacher. There were no discussions with the student about the validity of the teacher's decision nor was there a necessity for an accompanying note outlining the misdemeanor and justifying the teacher's decision. You were sent, you went, leaving only a momentary disturbance in the teaching/learning process. It was then up to you to explain your conduct to the head teacher whose responsibility was to decide and apply immediate and appropriate consequences to the misdemeanor. There was no room for argument or discussion at this stage either. 'Professional judgement' on the part of the head teacher and a caution to the student of further consequences if their aberrant behavior continued were usually all that was required to resolve the problem.
Levels of 'Student Welfare'
All schools in the NSW (Australia) public school system are expected to have a student welfare policy. Many years ago this was called a discipline policy, but we are far too enlightened to use the word discipline in an educational context these days. Instead we have 'strategies for dealing with disruptive students.' Most schools have adopted a levels approach for this. Instead of being sent straight to the head teacher or principal whenever an offense occurs, students, after multiple infractions across a whole range of classes, are given behavior contracts and these are meant to be filled in and signed by the teacher for every lesson and checked off by a head teacher at the end of the day. If you have a number of students on levels in a class and can think clearly enough after 40 or 50 minutes teaching you, as the teacher for that lesson, will diligently record misdemeanors and sign off for each student before taking a leisurely stroll to your next class in a room at the other end of the school. Some 'unscrupulous' teachers will even end their teaching of the class five minutes before the bell so that they have time to at least deal in part with this paper trail. The final outcome after many days of being on a level may be a return to class with a clean slate or rising to the next level with 'supposedly' more severe consequences. At all levels students will debate their case, make accusations of unfair treatment, play the games of denial and refusal and generally waste the time and effort of classroom teachers and executive staff. They will have forests of reporting done on them by teachers in what is supposed to be classroom preparation time or, more often than not outside of school hours. Could teachers be forgiven for ignoring trivial, though still disruptive, misdemeanors in the classroom, or reporting less severely on students already on a level than they deserve, as a means of avoiding this extra workload?