The Dog’s Bollocks

Truth is like a dog’s bollocks – pretty obvious if you care to look.

Andrew Leigh’s ‘Economics of Teacher Quality’

The issue of teaching quality is being used as a scapegoat for the Howard government’s chronic neglect of public education in its push to privatise education through the stealthy migration of funds to the private sector. Teaching quality is self-evidently important to the success of any school and requires well-developed mechanisms for the refinement and enhancement of both teaching and learning pedagogy and practice.

Andrew Leigh ran an ANU conference yesterday on ‘The Economics of Teacher Quality’. I certainly haven’t read any of the papers in their entirety, but from study of the abstracts sprinkled with personal experience, I produced this thumbnail sketch of the findings.

The greatest variation of quality teachers is within schools, rather than between. There is little evidence that the quality of teaching is better in wealthier than poorer schools.

Good teachers tend to be successful in their first year and are more likely to remain in the profession. Success in the first year of teaching depends on sufficient classroom experience during training. Good teachers are effective with all student ability levels and more so when students and teachers are of the same ethnicity.

The aptitude of new teachers has fallen considerably over the last 20 or so years and teachers are decreasingly well paid compared to their non-teaching graduate contemporaries. Unhappy, incompetent or disillusioned teachers leave for other careers, placing a financial burden on the system to produce more new teachers. The high turnover of teachers, as one would find in a struggling school, also limits the capacity of the school to develop an effective learning environment or good policy and practice. School leadership and culture is also important to the success of a school.

The most valuable resource available to any school is its teachers. Prevailing economic teacher-quality/student-performance/merit-pay research and policy agenda needs to be refocused on capacity building in teacher professionalism and its evaluation in terms of teaching standards related to what teachers should know and be able to do. Student achievement alone is an insufficient measure or indicator of teacher quality.

I would add that the teaching profession, like any other, has always strived to improve the practice of it core business, despite what many politicians and commentators might have us believe. In Victoria, the latest government policy in this respect is called Principles of Learning and Teaching, a program which describes effective learning and teaching and provides a model against which teachers can review their own practice and plan for improvement in their pedagogy. The policy aims to build consistent, comprehensive and improved pedagogical approaches within and across schools, while still allowing flexibility, innovation and local decision making at the school level in order to meet the diverse needs of students and strengthen learning communities within and beyond the school.

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Filed under: Economics, Education, Politics

2 Responses

  1. Andrew Leigh says:

    Slim, nice summary – you’ve put me to shame by collating the findings. Probably the only point that I’d make is that there was not a consensus over this paragraph:
    “Prevailing economic teacher-quality/student-performance/merit-pay research and policy agenda needs to be refocused on capacity building in teacher professionalism and its evaluation in terms of teaching standards related to what teachers should know and be able to do. Student achievement alone is an insufficient measure or indicator of teacher quality.”
    It was from the Rowe & Ingvarson paper, and several of the other presenters made the opposite case. For me, the debate over this point was one of the most interesting features of the day.

  2. slim says:

    Thanks Andrew. I was also ambivalent about that recommendation from ACER, but I guess testing and measurement is their main business. At least the recommendation places emphasis on determining the quality teaching by evaluating teacher knowledge and pedagogy rather than student scores.

    I don’t have a problem with this approach – the importance of reflection on teaching practice has been part of teacher training for decades as far as I know. But it needs to be undertaken in a supportive way within a healthy school culture, otherwise it comes to be seen as yet another imposition by bureaucrats, and if too onerous or inflexible may actually detract from the quality of teaching and learning. By and large, teachers just want to get on with teaching kids, not spending 30% of their time justifying what they are doing, and may cynically respond with sufficient tokenism to jump through the next hoop.

    It comes back to what I have argued previously, that measurement alone will not enhance the quality of our schools – there needs to be good leadership and a positive, enthusiastic culture of learning, and dare I say, sufficient resources. Accountability is essential, but the process should add value and enhance, not simply become another administrivial burden to satisfy politicians and bean counters, who, as often as not, are ill-equipped produce effective policy and practice.

    By and large, people who teach do so as a vocation, are trained and educated to do so, and should, within limits, be allowed to get on with it as they see fit – pretty much like the respect accorded to all other professions.

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The Dog’s Bollocks

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The Dog's Bollocks: "Bollocks" is one of my favourite words, and this is now one of my favourite blogs and I've only been reading it for five minutes. – John Surname

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