If we can believe recent media, the Rudd Government is pushing ahead with a competitive schools agenda; despite many leading academics warning against the introduction of comparative report cards for schools.
This month, the Chancellor of New York’s public schools, Joel Klein will be here extolling the benefits of its school reform agenda, which after six years, has only seen moderate improvements in learning outcomes. Klein believes that schools can ‘learn from each other’ when you create a competitive environment between schools of similar socio-economic status.
This agenda is flawed because it is driven by an egalitarian desire to raise the levels of improvement in disadvantaged schools by naming (and inadvertently shaming) the under-performers. It fails to grasp the complexity of schooling and the need to improve the quality of teachers across the board.
Under Klein’s model, great teachers working in affluent areas would be sharing their expertise with colleagues in similar schools. Where is the equity or the access in such a model? Besides, good teachers by definition are always prepared to be held accountable for the quality of student learning.
UK education academic Peter Mortimore was here recently to stimulate broad discussion on ‘school accountability’ and believes the model we should be examining is Finland. While we are culturally and economically different, the Finnish government has made a huge investment in teacher-training. As Mortimore says the Finnish government ‘trusts’ and ‘energises’ its teachers.
To borrow a line from president elect Obama, when good teachers are asked if they can improve learning for all kids they simply answer,”yes we can…”
I am not sure linking federal funding to teacher, principal or school performance will produce smarter and better students in the long-term. It may just disempower more teachers, diminish the hopes of aspirational leaders and produce students who can ‘perform’ on cue. While the results may be impressive, is that how we want to define good learning?