The Dog’s Bollocks

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

‘Failing schools’ are a failure of government

The concept of the under-performing school is simply a tool for politicians to disguise their own unwillingness to provide appropriate resources to the education system to help lessen the impact of social inequality.

So says Graeme Smithies, recently retired from 35 years in schools, in The Age today. A refreshing statement of the bleeding obvious about the state of public education in Australia. These are the best bits:

The apparent underperformance by many of the students in those schools is a direct result of factors outside the control of the school – the socio-economic, demographic and family factors that children have experienced before they start school, and which they continue to experience in the 17 hours of every school day that they are not at school.

For more than 40 years researchers have identified a variety of socio-economic factors that can influence a child’s educational performance. Proponents of the underperforming school fallacy seem to ignore these factors.

I have never seen a definition of what constitutes an underperforming school, but those who use the term generally imply that the academic performance of its students, as measured by VCE results or literacy and numeracy testing, is below expected standards, or the standards achieved by schools in different suburbs.

The implication is that teachers at such a school are not doing their jobs well enough – and if they work harder, improve their methods or are replaced by better teachers, the problem will be solved.

The concept of the underperforming or failing school is based on a number of myths. The first is that student performance is entirely dependent on what happens in school, and that it is a consequence solely of the activities of teachers and principals and not of any factors outside the school.

The second myth is that all students come to school equally prepared, with equal ability and with equal levels of motivation, so that all they need is excellent teaching to excel.

Students who start school with the best chances of ultimate success will come from a home where the parents are well educated and where education is highly valued; where the child’s imagination and cognitive development have been stimulated and enriched by a wide variety of play and other creative experiences; where English is the first language, and the parents and other adults with whom the child has contact have strong linguistic skills in the English language.

They will come from homes where the child is read to frequently, the parents read and are seen to enjoy reading, and there is a large variety of reading matter; and the child has had at least a year of pre-school experience before starting school.

The absence of any or all of these factors will affect a child’s readiness for school. Lower parental levels of education, limited linguistic ability, lack of reading and books in the home, little use of the English language in families of non-English-speaking backgrounds, high levels of family unemployment and non-attendance at kindergarten are all more prevalent in the northern and western suburbs.

Rather than grapple with these issues, Howard chose to divert funds from public education to the private sector, exploiting every opportunity to create fear that public schools are failing, are valueless, only for povo’s, and it’s all the fault of those lazy leftist and elitist unionised ideologues known as teachers, and we’ll spend countless millions on testing the kids to prove it and show you that we’re tough in The War on Education.

Rather than ‘our failing schools’ it might be more instructive to regard the problem as a symptom of ‘our failing society’. Even in relatively affluent but time poor families, many kids from the earliest age grow up exposed to a mind numbing stream of sensational and trivial trash media dedicated to encouraging unsustainable and insatiable consumption of everything from junk food to lifestyles in the pursuit of pleasure and the illusion of happiness. Family and community are sacrificed on the altar of free market capitalism. As individuals we are driven by our vanities and insecurities to fear, anger, anxiety, intoxication, depression and unhappiness in ever greater numbers. And that’s just those of us who are well-educated and relatively affluent! In economically underprivileged areas, the problems are exacerbated with violence and crime.

The only long term answer to these problems is education, and lots of it. To continue the blame game as we have been doing for the last 12 years is simply shuffling the deck chairs on the Titanic. We are failing our schools, the students and the families they serve.

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Filed under: Education, Howardians, Ideology, Politics,

2 Responses

  1. […] Pickens looks at underperforming schools and failures of […]

  2. LG says:

    “’The concept of the under-performing school is simply a tool for politicians to disguise their own unwillingness to provide appropriate resources to the education system to help lessen the impact of social inequality.’
    So says Graeme Smithies, recently retired from 35 years in schools, in The Age Today.”

    The degradation of the public school system is clear; more money, as is desired by the teachers’ unions, will not fix the problem. Social inequality isn’t the issue. The design and purpose of the school system, and the way students are stunted by it is the issue.

    “The implication is that teachers at such a school are not doing their jobs well enough – and if they work harder, improve their methods or are replaced by better teachers, the problem will be solved.”

    That’s only part of the implication. Better teachers will help reduce the negative effects the federal school system is having on its students, but the real solution is to go back to the foundational principles on which our country was founded, and abide by them in every sphere of civil duty, especially education.

    “The concept of the under-performing or failing school is based on a number of myths. The first is that student performance is entirely dependent on what happens in school, and that it is a consequence solely of the activities of teachers and principals and not of any factors outside the school.”

    No one is saying that student performance is entirely dependent on what happens in school, or that no other factors are involved. However, the truth is that most of the influence exerted on the student during his school years is from the school- with all its negative influences and its erroneous foundation. Thus, the school is to be held mainly responsible for influencing its students in an (all too common) undesirable direction. Since the public school system as presently constituted is not based on a Biblical foundation anymore, the change will have to be to the foundation, not only to the school staff. Please also note that student performance in school is not the only, or even the primary concern. The concern is for the student’s welfare and the condition of his inmost being.

    “The second myth is that all students come to school equally prepared, with equal ability and with equal levels of motivation, so that all they need is excellent teaching to excel.”

    Not so. We all know that students come to school prepared to different degrees, with different abilities and with different levels of motivation. They do need excellent teaching in order to encourage best results, but that alone will not guarantee success in school or in life. What they do need is a positive, beneficial foundation of absolute principles and wisdom on which to learn.

    “Students who start school with the best chances of ultimate success will come from a home where the parents are well educated and where education is highly valued; where the child’s imagination and cognitive development have been stimulated and enriched by a wide variety of play and other creative experiences; where English is the first language, and the parents and other adults with whom the child has contact have strong linguistic skills in the English language.”

    These things aid and promote success in school. We are not denying that at all. The basis on which these things are taught is what will make the difference in the life, not just the schooling, of the student. What basis are these things taught on? The basis that man is a cosmic accident and on an equal level with animals? Many are well educated on that basis, and though they have good careers, find themselves miserable indeed.

    “The absence of any or all of these factors will affect a child’s readiness for school. Lower parental levels of education, limited linguistic ability, lack of reading and books in the home, little use of the English language in families of non-English-speaking backgrounds, high levels of family unemployment and non-attendance at kindergarten are all more prevalent in the northern and western suburbs.”

    Likewise, the absence of beneficial factors will make it more difficult for any person to learn and thrive. Notwithstanding, if each student was allowed to learn at his own pace without being hurried along or put into special needs classes, the slow or disadvantaged learners would catch up and the fast or advantaged learners would eventually moderate their pace as the difficulty of learning material increases. At the end of their education, you would not be able to tell a significant difference as far as aptitude is concerned if this method of education was applied. This, we know, is a hard thing for the public school system to adopt because it is (as said before) on the wrong foundation. Until the foundation is changed, all other attempted fixes are like band-aids on the broken bone.

    In a nutshell, the teachers blame the parents for not taking responsibility for their children’s development, and the parents point out that the children are influenced most at school. The teachers believe the issue is performance in school, while many parents believe that the issue is also the way the students are influenced for life. As is often the case, both sides have valid points and both sides are at fault. The real question is, “What are we going to do about it?”

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