MySchool: Part I

I support transparency, governments sharing information with citizens and believe schools must improve by using data, along with a range of other innovations.

I applaud the Federal Government’s Digital and Building Education Revolution policies, while recognising far greater vision is needed, as they go nowhere near far enough in regards to innovation or funding.

I believe that Mr Rudd and Ms Gillard have a passionate understanding that education must improve in Australian schools and are energetically leading, asking schools to re-invigorate and enhance learning opportunities for our communities.

However, the deeply flawed, controversial policy of releasing school data, that was never designed for this purpose, at the MySchool website has the potential to create exactly the opposite conditions needed in schools to develop an educated citizenry, healthy communities, love of life-long learning, quality teaching, a strong economy and development of 21st century curriculum.

 
 
What will happen?
 
What will be the intended and unintended consequences of the Deputy Prime Minister’s reform? I am certain she intends it as a game-changing innovation to improve the quality of schooling and wants to break through the clay layer. Ironically, the data from the US and UK does not support Ms Gillard’s position – which seems to be that the ‘sunlight’ of publicly available data is ‘the best disinfectant’. 

This vexed issue must be discussed intelligently, not with 5 second news bites by politicians, unions and parents filmed at the front gate, picking up their kids. One hopes that the ensuing conflict, brewing between the Federal Government and a range of parents, professional associations and educational unions, will see some intelligent ways forward. Most likely, the NAPLAN tests will be banned across the country and despite Ms Gillard’s suggestion she can organise for them to be invigilated, teachers and parents will lose data that has been used successfully to diagnose student needs. This will be a lose-lose scenario.

The countries that have the most impressive educational data, for example Finland, have a completely different approach and explanation of why they have such quality learning outcomes.

What’s wrong with league tables?

The headlines and stories in Australian newspapers this week confirm what our former director-general in NSW, principals, teachers’ associations, parents, The Greens, citizens of New York  experiencing that city’s misguided reforms and education unions warned would happen – league tables. Slowly at first and then with frightening momentum, schools reduce curriculum experiences for children as teachers scramble to ‘teach to the test’.  Kevin Donnelly, originally an advocate of league tables, recants that position for what one assumes are intellectually honest reasons, rather than partisan politics, considering he was once a Liberal Party staffer.

This article is worth thinking about too, as it muses on the possibility of leagues tables in other areas of our community life? A good idea or not?

I recommend you read Lawrence Lessig’s lengthy, The Perils of Transparency. The article does not discuss transparency in education at all, as this one does but explores, from the perspective of a proponent of the transparency movement, his concerns at what is being unleashed. If you do not have the time or inclination to read the entire article, here’s a few important quotes:

Reformers rarely feel responsible for the bad that their fantastic new reform effects. Their focus is always on the good. The bad is someone else’s problem. It may well be asking too much to imagine more than this. But as we see the consequences of changes that many of us view as good, we might wonder whether more good might have been done…

The problem, however, is that not all data satisfies the simple requirement that they be information that consumers can use, presented in a way they can use it…people may ignore information, or misunderstand it, or misuse it. Whether and how new information is used to further public objectives depends upon its incorporation into complex chains of comprehension, action, and response.

This is the problem of attention-span. To understand something–an essay, an argument, a proof of innocence– requires a certain amount of attention. But on many issues, the average, or even rational, amount of attention given to understand…is almost always less than the amount of time required.

We see the attention-span problem everywhere, in public and private life. Think of politics, increasingly the art of exploiting attention-span problems–tagging your opponent with barbs that no one has time to understand, let alone analyze.

Considering the above comment, one hopes you have time to read the entire article by Lessig.

Some more reading on the issues of league table, standardised testing and accountabilty regimes can be found here.

I look forward to your comments and analysis. What is particularly of interest are thoughts on what may happen to 21st century skills and the stalled movement towards genuine personalised learning?

 

Read MySchool: Part II

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DISCLAIMER

The views expressed at this site are my own and do not necessarily represent those of my employer.

8 Comments

  1. Jan:

    An interesting post that provides significant food for thought. The Lessig article is, perhaps, a reasonable interperetation of where the government sits; either they can’t or don’t want to genuinely understand the negatives or side effects of the MySchool issues. Indeed, there is much that is good about the MySchool data, and that is the focus of their reform. Lessig’s point precisely.

    I thought your link to personalised learning and David Hargreaves was a relevant one. So what is the data for, who uses it and how should it be used? I find it interesting that Hargreaves continues to innovate, his latest ideas of course being very controversial in Britain. Where and/or how have we touched base, much less managed home runs with personalised learning?

    My question to our government would be: If the data in MySchool is meant to provide greater opportunity for the government provide additional support to “poorer performing” schools, how then do we reconcile the data and construct this support to create 10 000 or more “optimum learning environments” for our students within the context of a digital learning paradigm?

    Looking forward to part 2 Darcy. Hope its about “similar” schools. Don’t get me started on that one…

  2. Paula Madigan:

    It was interesting to read the letter to the editor in the Sydney Morning Herald today whose child goes to the school in Paddington that topped the Primary listings. She was scathing. According to her, all the school did in the months leading up to the test was to teach to the test (forgoing many other aspects of the curriculum)and the pressure on children and their parents was intense.

    Is this what the Federal government wants our schools to become? A narrow curriculum within a pressure cooker but at least the place on the league table will justify it all…

    Luckily, many parents feel the same way about this as teachers do (look at the other letters to the editor from the same paper). Hopefully the discussion that will follow in the next few weeks and months will stress that a “good” school allows for the holistic development of children in a nuturing and supportive environment where many different forms of assessing their skills and needs are used to ensure the best possible educational outcomes for all students in their care.

    Thankfully, the parents at our school already see the value of what we do and a couple have, in recent days, specifically rung in to tell us so – league table or no league table.

  3. Troy:

    I too, support transparency, governments sharing information with citizens and believe schools must improve by using data, along with a range of other innovations. But not everyone understands how to do this, just as the ‘information’ provided will not be understood by the majority of people. I want our leaders to value education, as much as they do, say border security or the economy.

  4. Darcy
    It is all a matter of how much we value the data. School, faculty and classroom leaders have valued NAPLAN data for some time. We openly share, discuss, deconstruct, construct and plan around the data. Why do we value this data because, we know it has a positive impact on education and we can use it to our students benefit. School leaders receive endless data from all sources that is not valued and is ignored. Why, because we can’t control it and we know it has no benefit for our students.

    The answer to your question of how will MySchool effect of the landscape of Australian educators is actually up to us as educators. We have a choice how much do we value the data? (Not individual NAPLAN data but the manhandled data cesspool that is MySchool).

    If we as educators value it, teach to the exam and worse start to manhandle our classrooms into pockets of data cesspools then the impact will be massive. Personalised and individualised learning will return to industrialised education. Our students will be the losers we will become active participants in the deconstruction of the centres of excellence that many schools have become. 21st Century skills will become unnecessary baggage in moving up the rungs. (Thought; even at Harvard University there is a top graduate and a bottom graduate, is the bottom graduate dumb?). Even if the exam moves to a digital environment, digital teaching will be limited to touch typing and Microsoft Word. Students will not be able to be active digital citizens creating and contributing to their digital world.

    Rather we as educators should take the Dentists view (see Darcys post ‘No Laughing Matter…’) that we can’t control our patients but we can control what happens in the classroom. We as educators know what our students need to perform and participate in the modern society (note: complete the perfect exam is not a need of society but limestone pillared elitist education institutions). We as educators know the best teaching and learning strategies for our students and our curriculum. It is through the rich intellectual, technology, social, cultural and emotional education that students receive in Australian schools that prepares them for the real world not a score on an exam.

    I implore my fellow educators to embrace the wealth of NAPLAN data that informs everything we do, complement it with the data we collect every lesson. Don’t buy into preparing students for an exam so a school looks better on a website. Explore the extended curriculum and enrich learning for our students benefit. Do what is right, because it is the right thing to do.

    Ben Jones

  5. Lyn:

    Thank you, Darcy, for a level headed, thoughtful, information filled response to the MySchool debate. And to all who have commented so far. I began today’s work by looking at the site for the first time and my school’s ‘result’. For a while I had a distinct pain in the chest and the urge to cry. Intellectually I started to think ‘what can i do to make sure we don’t look so bad next time?’ Thankfully common sense kicked in – that’s exactly how lots of teachers will react, because they do care about their students and their learning. And there will be a very understandable urge to ‘teach to the exam’. After reading your post and the responses to the post, the pain in the chest eased and the urge to cry dissipated. Australia’s teachers are not so weak minded that they will succumb to this pressure. We deliver excellent curriculum loaded with challenging, engaging real world experiences and our students deserve better than teaching to a test that in no way takes into account who they are and their contribution in so many ways to a great Australia.

  6. darcymoore:

    Some thoughtful comments. Thanks Troy, Ben, Jan, Lyn and Paula for your contributions. It will be interesting to see the conversations unfolding with parents over the coming weeks. I guess there will be a variety of opinions, many based on limited understanding of the data and it’s limitations.

  7. kmcg2375:

    I can’t help but reflect on my PhD research here. My research showed that ‘public debate’ over the English curriculum meant that parents and journalists dictated policy discussion and the eventual syllabus. Fears (unfounded, misinformed…sound familiar?) that Shakespeare was going to be taken over by Star Wars once film studies were introduced dominated debate that should have been focussed on bigger curriculum issues.

    In my experience ‘public debate’ that is not formally structured, but where gut reactions and news columns end up dictating policy decisions, is not healthy at all. Education is a public good – but that doesn’t mean the general public is my boss.

  8. darcymoore:

    Politicians often say the public is their boss. I guess that leads to more ‘bread and circuses’.

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